MILWAUKEE—In what Major League Baseball officials are calling a "long overdue correction of a gross oversight," Commissioner Bud Selig announced Tuesday the discovery that Hall of Famer Hank Aaron had in fact accumulated 50 previously unaccounted-for home runs during his illustrious 22-year baseball career, bringing his once record total of 755 to an even higher 805 and putting the all-time home-run record perhaps forever out of reach.
Hank Aaron hits one of the 12 home runs he tallied during the 1973-1/2 season.
"Hank Aaron is a hero, an excellent man, and a great ambassador for the game of baseball," Selig said during a press conference to announce the findings. "We're proud to have finally set things right, hopefully once and for all. And I have to tell you, some of the home runs that we discovered were just monster shots. One was hit off of [Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher] Harvey Haddix that went 576 feet, and Hank wasn't even that big of a guy. Just naturally strong and gifted, I guess."
Haddix was unavailable for comment, as he passed away in 1994.
According to Selig, a committee of sports journalists and baseball historians was set up during the off-season to investigate, with Selig's oversight, whether there was any substance to a rumor that began circulating last summer concerning Aaron having hit more homeruns than those credited to him in the record books. Though Selig said he couldn't recall the date the committee was established, he believes it was in or around the time he approved the San Francisco Giants' highly publicized signing of Barry Zito.
The committee's 30-page report points out several key factors that combined to increase Aaron's home run total. For example, in 1958, home runs hit during both the first week of spring training and those hit in pre-game batting practice during away games in the third week of August were added to a player's career numbers. In addition, home runs hit during the 1971 All-Star Game should have been tallied.
Aaron, coincidentally, did hit a home run in that game.
"We are here today to the right the wrongs," Selig said. "This is America's national pastime, and its players, fans, and all citizens deserve to have a record book in which they can take great pride. So if we didn't count Hank Aarons five-homer outing during 1964's famous 'Empty Stadium' game, I wouldn't be able to live with myself."
Furthermore, the report continued, a third of the home runs hit by players who participated in the television series Home Run Derby, a show on which Aaron appeared several times, should have been counted. In addition, during the second half of the 1962 season, balls that bounced over the outfield fence should have been counted as home runs, and foul balls that were hit behind the batter but cleared the netting intended to protect fans seated behind home plate were also home runs. That being the case, league scorekeepers now say Aaron had his best year in 1962, hitting 65 home runs—20 more than originally thought.
Though there has been some negative reaction towards the announcement of Aaron's new record, mostly from fans in northern California, the news has been received very well nationwide.
"This is the best thing that has happened to baseball in years," said New York resident Tom Plaitano, 63. "I remember watching Hank Aaron as a kid, and even though I don't recall a time when all home runs hit off Sandy Koufax counted for two, I don't really care. This decision just makes sense to me."
"The number 805 will go down as the most prestigious number in sports," said Selig, adding that there is a strong possibility still more of Aaron's home runs could come to the surface during this season, and maybe even the next several seasons to come. "It's not out of the question that Hank could have, say, 900 home runs by the time our investigation is all said and done."
"Either way, the all-time home-run record couldn't be held by a more dignified and honorable man," Selig added.
The committee's report has caused quite a shakeup to the list of baseball's all-time home-run leaders. Aaron, while keeping his record, is not even the biggest benefactor of the findings; as of now Aaron is first with 805, Willie Mays has jumped to second with 800, Frank Robinson is third with 798, Harmon Killebrew is fourth with 797, and Reggie Jackson, Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks, Ted Williams, and Willie McCovey are tied for fifth at 796.
According to Selig, early results of another investigation may net Babe Ruth as many as 74 additional home runs, Mike Schmidt an estimated 124, and Ken Griffey Jr. a possible 200, while players such as Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, and Barry Bonds will probably be knocked even further down the list.