ATLANTA, (UPI) -- Hank Aaron, who speaks softly but carries a big stick, surprised his boss with an apology after he passed another milestone en route to becoming one of baseball's all-time home run leaders.
"I'm sorry I waited so long to hit it," the All-Star outfielder told Bill Bartholomay yesterday when the Atlanta Braves president rushed out to congratulate him on hitting his 500th major career homer.
Aaron said later he especially was pleased about two aspects of his 500th home run: That it won the game and that it came at home.
A crowd of 34,283 - Atlanta's largest this season - was on hand to see Aaron hit his three-run homer in the third inning to power the Braves to a 4-2 victory over the San Francisco Giants.
Next milestone for Aaron will be home run No. 511. That's how many Mel Ott, No. 7 on the all-time list, hit for the Giants before laying down his bat in 1947. The No.6 man on the list is Aaron's former teammate Eddie Mathews who is now with the Tigers but who is probably out for the rest of this season following a back operation.
Then come Ted Williams (521), Mickey Mantle (529), Jimmy Foxx (534), Willie Mays (577) and Babe Ruth (714).
Mays was sitting in the Giants' dugout when Aaron hit his 500th homer and later repeated his earlier prediction that Aaron would wind up with more home runs than he does.
Mays figures that since Atlanta Stadium is recognized as an easier park to hit home runs in than Candlestick in San Francisco, Aaron, who at 34 is three years younger than he is, should have no trouble making up the 77-homer difference that now exists between them.
"There's no telling how many home runs Aaron will hit before he's through," said Braves manager Luman Harris. "He keeps himself in great shape and should be able to play a lot more years - maybe even into his 40s."
Ruth, Mays and Foxx also hit their 500th home runs at 34 years of age. Ruth hit 198 in his six seasons after that and Mays has hit 71 since. Aaron needs 19 more this year (the same number he has so far this season) to equal Foxx for the most hit by a 34-year-old.
Aaron had one regret today. His father had been in town for several days especially to see him hit No. 500, but left after the three-game Dodger series.
"He told me before he left that he'd been around here long enough and I'd just have to hit it without him," Aaron said.
Someone asked Aaron if he was glad to get the pressure off.
"Yeah," answered Hammerin' Hank, "The countdown is over."