SAN FRANCISCO -- The answer to how Hank Aaron would react to Barry Bonds supplanting him as the Home Run King was answered moments after the Giants slugger slammed No. 756 into the bleachers to the right of dead center field on Tuesday night against the Nationals. During a 10-minute celebration, the crowd in AT&T Park became hushed as Aaron's visage appeared on the video board high above center field. "I would like to offer my congratulations to Barry Bonds on becoming baseball's career home run leader," he said. "It is a great accomplishment which required skill, longevity and determination.
"Throughout the past century, the home run has held a special place in baseball and I have been privileged to hold this record for 33 of those years. I move over now and offer my best wishes to Barry and his family on this historic achievement. "My hope today, as it was on that April evening in 1974, is that the achievement of this record will inspire others to chase their own dreams." Aaron had been largely silent this year as Bonds has pursued his record. He said early on that he would not be at the game when Bonds hit No. 756, ending a reign that began for Aaron when he hit No. 715 to pass Babe Ruth into first place on the all-time list on April 8, 1974, at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, and lasted 12,178 days. It was the fourth such video message that the Giants have delivered to Bonds since he closed on the landmark milestone. Other sporting greats sending their well-wishes to Bonds were football's Joe Montana, basketball's Michael Jordan, hockey's Wayne Gretzky and boxing's Muhammad Ali.
"We wanted to get the top player in each sport," said Larry Baer, the club's executive vice president. "And the amazing thing is not one person said, no."The videos, particularly the one starring Aaron, may have been the best kept secret in sports media history. Aaron's was shot five weeks ago at a time when the media was speculating that a feud was brewing between Bonds and the Hammer. "We wanted it to be the culmination of the series of uberstars," Baer said. "He [Aaron] was always open to it. Our take on it was that Hank always wanted to respect the accomplishment. He's just a private person and didn't want to be in the middle of a frenzy or controversy. I'm sure he consulted with a lot of people, including, I'm sure, the Commissioner [Bud Selig]." Bonds was the most shocked by Aaron's message. He was totally kept in the dark until it popped up on the video screen, Baer said. "It meant everything," Bonds said. "It meant absolutely everything. I have a lot of respect for him. So does everyone in the game. It was absolutely the best."