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April 13, 2010

Hank Aaron On His Cause And His Game

Posted: 04:52 PM ET

Baseball is a game of immortals. Untouchables. From 1888's "Casey at the Bat" to Bob Dylan's "Catfish" and Fogerty's "Centerfield", the rhapsodizing of the game and its heroes endures. From "Pride of the Yankees" to "Field of Dreams," Hollywood looks to one sport more than any other for its silver screen magic.

The game and its heroes have an aura of timelessness and invincibility. The best of the best- the true untouchables- are few in number. The list of living legends is even smaller, and the best living player usually comes down to two names- Willie Mays and one Henry Louis "Hank" Aaron.

In this day of inflated statistics (and inflated bodies) in baseball, Aaron still holds the record for career RBI (2,297) and extra base hits. He made the All-Star team every year from 1955 to 1975. He held the career home run record of 755 until Barry Bonds broke that record just three years ago.

Yet even immortals are vulnerable. A few years into retirement, Hammerin' Hank noticed lingering pain in his knee. And it only got worse. "I play golf and hack it like the rest of us. I hit one ball in the sand trap and I had to have someone to almost pull me out of the trap. Its gets to be an embarrassing situation. You know I was an athlete I don’t need all this help."

Then came the real warning signs. "My first sign of trouble when I was trying to drive from my home to the office which is at the ball field which is only ten minutes away. And the more I was putting my foot down on the accelerator my legs would start paining, I was having knee problems. And I said, “whoa this is kind of freakish.” Cause I’ve got to be able to drive." Soon after, he would be diagnosed with a debilitating ailment.

Knee osteoarthritis (OA) can happen to anyone, including Hank Aaron. Until now, Hank's battle with osteoarthritis of the knee has been kept on the sidelines. Yet, in hopes of helping the 10 million Americans with the condition, Hank has teamed up with the drug company Genzyme,  and orthopedic surgeon and author Dr. Nick DiNubile to launch "Get Back in the Game." The program encourages the millions of people suffering with OA knee pain to take action now and to talk to their doctor about treatment options.

As proof that he is truly "Back in the Game," Hank will walk in the Arthritis Walk on May 22, 2010 in Atlanta. He is encouraging others to support the fight against arthritis by joining www.teamhank.com. For every person who joins Hank's team, Genyzme will make a donation to the Arthritis Foundation.

Hank Aaron recently spoke with LKL producer Quinn Brown about living with his osteoarthritis, and his thoughts on the baseball season.

LKL: You were always a pretty fit player. How did this start?

Aaron: I’d been playing for 23 years and I’ve never been on the disabled list. I probably just ignored it I didn’t bother with it too much. Of course the more I was having to stop doing some of the things I wanted to do like play golf or tennis or walking and doing things with my grandkids I decided I needed to do something about it. And a friend of mine who was a orthopedic surgeon came up and said, “you know you can try the shot. One shot.” So I said why not try it. I tried everything else. So I tried this one and I have not had any problems since then. Of course I think it lasts six months and its only for the knee (the shot was Synvisc-One, manufactured by Genzyme).

LKL: Do you think baseball had anything to do with this?

Aaron: No question about it. For 23 years running in and out, in and out sliding all the time, constantly sliding. For 23 years you know it certainly had something to do with it.

LKL: Someone with this ailment, what is the first thing they should do?

Aaron: I think they should visit their doctor, an orthopedic surgeon. Someone who knows what their doing and what they’re talking about. Because you know you have to be able to diagnose it and diagnose it right. I think if their knee starts bothering them, I think the thing that most people, especially retired people, I’m not talking about young people, it can happen when youre young, but with retired people- the first thing you do is say 'screw it. it’s finished I’m not going to worry about it. Having an operation? I’m just gonna say I can’t do this.' And that’s not fair to your body, your family, your kids.

LKL: You’re doing a walk in Atlanta to support this cause?

Aaron: Yes, to demonstrate to people that you can get back in the game. We’re gonna get up and walk and try to demonstrate to people if you just get healthy knees and healthy bodies you can get back and do the things you want to do.

LKL: A little baseball talk–This young lad named Jason Heyward (the Atlanta Braves prized rookie outfielder), they’ve compared you and him a little bit. What do you think of that?

Aaron: I think he’s a wonderful athlete. I think he’s gonna be alright. I think theres a difference between him and me you know. He’s much bigger than I ever was. I only weighed 170 pounds. This kid must stand 6’5” and weigh 220. and he’s very powerful. He hits the ball out right, left, center. So he’s much more powerful than I was. I was only just a scrawny kid. But you know he has the ability to be a real good ball player.

LKL: What do you say is the major difference in today’s game as opposed to when you played?

Aaron: Money. (laughs)  And I think the pitching is a lot different than it was.

LKL: It's been said that football going to take over baseball as the national pastime. Do you think baseball is in danger of that?

Aaron: I don’t think so. I think football has its customers and baseball has its customers. I think football has come long ways in the last few years because of television and football has been able to explain the game. You know we’ve had some difficulty with strikes and people got a little angry with people. I think last year was a very good year. I think the commissioners office had one of the best seasons they ever had.

LKL: Larry says baseball is human chess. It’s a little harder for people to understand...

Aaron: It is. If you talked to the average person they just don’t understand. Baseball is a game that if you play it you understand it, and if you’ve been around it for a long time people say it’s slow. But actually it's not. If you know what's going on all the time, there’s strategy in everything that you do out there. When you see a player bunt, they’re always supposed to be in motion. It's not slow, its just not as fast as games like football. If you talk about football, I love football. But how many minutes do you get for football. And you talk about basketball. You can go get you a hotdog and come back five minutes and sit there and eat for or five hotdogs and [not miss anything]. I’m not knocking it but that’s the way the game is played.

LKL: Do you have any predictions for this baseball season?

Aaron: The Yankees are going to be tough in the American league. I’d like to see another team go to the World Series cause it means baseball has finally gotten off the thing of saying the high priced teams always advance. The Braves, if we stay healthy, will do well. I think any team can go because if you lose a particular ball player for example if Philidelphia loses Ryan Howard then that ball club is doomed. If we lose someone on our ball club we are doomed. That’s the way it is. Todays sports is not how much you start, it's whether or not you got a good bullpen or whether you got some guys who can come in and play every game. And that’s true in all sports.

Filed under: Baseball • Hank Aaron • Health • LKL Web Exclusive


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Smith in Oregon   April 13th, 2010 5:39 pm ET

Sadly, America's scientists are largely prevented from exploring the Peruvian Indians total lack of arthritic conditions and their eating leaves of the Cocaine bush for altitude sickness because of America's failed War on Drugs.

Instead the millions of American's stricken with various forms of arthritic diseases must rely on extremely toxic and outright dangerious legal prescription drugs which mostly only alleviate the pain and rarely if ever cure the underlining arthritic condition and disease.

I wouldn't be surprised to find that Big Pharma is one of the major contributers to Republican lawmakers in their failed War on Drugs which is seen by more and more American's simply as a War on Americans by special interest groups funding Republican lawmakers to enforce their special interests.


Cajazz76:24:8   April 13th, 2010 5:56 pm ET

The Human Condition is predisposed to OA regardless of intense physical activity or not. It has not been sufficiently addressed in that respect and a national hero like Hank Aaron is the perfect spokesman to bring it to the attention of millions. His accomplishments in baseball were no doubt scrubbed down a bit because of race. I remember all too well the threats he received prior to his attempt at breaking the long held sacrosanct home run record of Babe Ruth...He broke it on April 8, 1974. I will always remember that day and so to will I remember the name of the legend Hank Aaron...American Hero.


Joe G. (Illinois)   April 13th, 2010 6:22 pm ET

When generations upon generations and millions upon millions of Americans view the game of Baseball and it’s players under such light.. Knee problems is the least of concerns.. Just what in the world do they put in those Milk and Oreos..? Extraordinarily atrocious.


Chris   April 13th, 2010 9:05 pm ET

Smith in Oregon,
Take it elsewhere; it's become terribly boring.


Derrick L. Solomon   April 14th, 2010 1:05 am ET

Well regardless of if you think he is a great baseball player or not. If you have the problem or condition. This is good information a person needs to know to help them out.


Smith in Oregon   April 14th, 2010 3:43 am ET

@ Chris, what the hell are you ranting at? My comment is SPOT ON in regards to what Hank Aaron and millions of American's are suffering from.


Smith in Oregon   April 14th, 2010 3:46 am ET

@ Chris, my comment in regards to research on a possible cure of OA is entirely spot on in regards to this current Blog post and what if anything can help millions of Americans stricken with arthritic diseases.


James Bustamante   April 14th, 2010 5:24 am ET

Oxidative stress can and will lead to many problems such as OA. If I could speak to Mr. Aaron, I would encourage him to try alternative methods such as intracellular nutrition before resorting to drugs and or surgery.

I recommend researching Glutathione Accelerators. Glutathione is responsible for managing oxidative stress on our cells, thus reducing inflammation. Good luck.


Matt in Atlanta   April 14th, 2010 5:45 am ET

It's "pastime," not pass-time. If you're going to cover a baseball story, please be familiar with the general vernacular. In response to the story itself, I'm glad Hank is responding well to this treatment. Hopefully this will lead to people with OA to function more normally.


Mark   April 14th, 2010 6:36 am ET

The best living players come down to Willie Mays and Hank Aaron? I agree with that, but why is Stan Musial always left out of this conversation? I just don't understand it......


Rob   April 14th, 2010 8:45 am ET

Mark is correct. Stan Musial should definitely be considered a living legend. The problem is that he and Ted Williams were the greatest baseball players in the generation before Aaron and Mays (although, of course, their playing days overlapped). Musial's longevity is yet another demonstration of what a great athlete he was.


Rob D   April 14th, 2010 8:49 am ET

"Pass-time"? Come on CNN, learn to write english properly, you're a major news organization for crying out loud.

Stan Musial was a great player, but you can't deny that Aaron and Mays were even better. And why not Yastrzemski? We could go on about this for hours, but to filter it down to Mays and Aaron is OK with me – and a lot of other baseball fans, evidently. Sometimes you just have to let go...


curt   April 14th, 2010 9:03 am ET

To Larry King - whether you look at stats, longevity, overall
contribution to the game, or any other measure, Stan Musial
is easily the equal of Willie Mays and Hank Aaron - was on
MLB's Team of the Century, and will be 90 years old this year.

By what norms and criteria could you say that Stan Musial
does not belong in the company of Willie Mays and Hank
Aaron as one of the THREE greatest living legends of baseball?
East Coast media focus? You should honor him for his
90th birthday by inviting him to be on your show.


Ken   April 14th, 2010 9:04 am ET

Just remember the man , who he was and what he did for the game and humanity.


Jim Carroll   April 14th, 2010 1:55 pm ET

The big lie about the national debt, deficit spending and social
security going broke: go to internetfreepress.com and see for
yourself.


curt   April 14th, 2010 5:20 pm ET

Just a follow up on the THREE greatest living legends among
America's all time best baseball players:

The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) ranks
Aaron 4th. Musial 5th, and Mays 8th;

Bill James ranks Mays 3rd, Musial 10th, and Aaron 12th;

Baseball Evolution ranks Musial 9th, Mays 10th, and Aaron 12th;

The Sporting News ranks Mays 2nd, Aaron 5th, and Musial 10th;

The Bleacher Report ranks Musial 6th, Aaron 10th and Mays 18th,
and notes that Musial is "the most complete offensive player of all time."

While Aaron and Mays certainly led in homers, Musial held his own
with 475 - but baseball is more than homers, and a range of other
statistics show why many think Musial was the most dominant player
of the mid-20th Century:

Doubles: Musial leads with 725, Aaron 624, Mays 523

Triples: Musial leads with 177, Mays 140, Aaron 98

Lifetime batting average, no contest: Musial leads with a lifetime
average of .331, Aaron a distant second with .305, Mays with .302

Musial had only four seasons batting less than .300; Aaron had
9 seasons below .300, and Mays 13 seasons below .300.

Muisial also led Mays in hits, 3630 to 3283, and RBI's 1951 to 1903

Given Aaron and Mays' acknowledged lead in homers, you would
think they led Musial in Slugging Percentage as well. Not so.

Musial led in career Slugging Percentage with ,596 to Mays .557
and Aaron's .555 (all stats taken from the Baseball Almanac)

Against this background of hitting, including hitting for power,
the most amazing category that Musial distances himself from
the others is, in the fewest number of strikeouts.

Musial had six seasons in which he struck out fewer than 30 times;
while three of those were during the war years, the other three
were in the '50's. In fact, his second lowest total of 25 strikeouts
occurred in both 1942 and 1959 - an amazing level of consistency
at the beginning and end of his career - and a rate of fewer than
one strikeout per week. He easily leads Aaron and Mays in this
category over their careers: Musial 696, Aaron 1383, Mays 1526.

By the way, Musial also led the other two in 'on base percentage'
- Musial .417, Mays, 384, and Aaron .374.

So whether it is in acknowledged rankings by legitimate sources,
or in overall statistics, the obvious conclusion is that Musial is
what Bleacher Report described him: "the most complete offensive
player of all time."

He is thankfully still living, and nearing age 90 is clearly one of the
THREE greatest living legends of American baseball.

You may have been too young to see him play, Larry, but there's
no reason you and your staff couldn't do a better job of journalism.

To talk about Aaron and Mays as the two greatest living legends,
and leave Musial out when he was clearly the better player in many
areas, simply betrays a slipshod approach - worthy perhaps of
Oprah, but not of you.


Jessie from Auckland, NZ   April 17th, 2010 6:54 am ET

Thank you for this great article and bringing the attention to this problem.

I think I could be suffering from this as well now, as my knees are starting to play up. Not a very nice thing at all. Very annoying condition and frustrating too.

I have a neighbour who suffers badly from it, so will tell him about the shot as well.


wasitosa   August 4th, 2010 5:30 pm ET

I grew up in Milw when Aaron played there, and I love the guy, Mays, too. But I agree with all the Musial supporters. I would like someone to explain to me how the greatest living legends conversation went from Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio to Hank and Willie. I guess Stan the Man didn't have a good enough tag team partner. The guy is 90 and baseball absolutely needs to honor this great, great baseball player.


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