Aaron's football spirits soar with... Ravens

October 02, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

ATLANTA -- Hank Aaron sat behind his desk at Turner Field, holding a printout of yesterday's story about Peter Boulware from The Sun's Web site.

"My boy," Aaron said.

His Ravens.

In the course of a 30-minute conversation yesterday, Aaron wondered what has become of Tony Banks, gushed over Chris McAlister and fantasized about landing Florida State's Peter Warrick in next year's draft.

That's right, baseball's all-time home run king is a Ravens fan.

Aaron, 65, will attend tomorrow's Ravens-Falcons game at the Georgia Dome, but he'll be rooting against his hometown team. He refers to the Ravens as "we," as in "next year we've got two No. 1 picks."

Each week, Aaron points his satellite dish to the Ravens' telecast. Each morning, his assistant, Susan Bailey, prints out the latest newspaper stories on the Ravens from the Internet before he arrives at work.

Aaron follows the Boston Celtics with the same passion, and he recently requested that Bailey expand her daily Internet search to include stories about the new Cleveland Browns.

That's right, Aaron roots for the Browns and Ravens, a feat that might distinguish him even more than his 755 career home runs.

"I compare it to when the Braves moved here from Milwaukee," said Aaron, who accompanied the team on that relocation in 1966, and is now the Braves' senior vice president and assistant to the president. "I look at it from a player's standpoint. The players had nothing to do with it. My loyalty was always to the players. I stuck with them. I've been with them. When the two teams played the other day, I had mixed feelings."

Aaron adopted the old Browns nearly a half-century ago after they joined the NFL from the All-America Football Conference. He liked that they were underdogs in the new league, then won

NFL titles in 1950, '54, '55 and '64.

These days, thanks to Ozzie Newsome, his attachment to the franchise is even stronger.

Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel, was one of Aaron's favorite players. Like Aaron, he is from Alabama. And like Aaron, he now is one of the leading African-American executives in professional sports.

"I don't mean to be a turncoat by any stretch of the imagination -- I was one of the most excited people in all of Atlanta when the Falcons went to the Super Bowl," Aaron said.

"What people have to remember is that Ozzie Newsome is a friend of mine. Being in his position as an African-American, I want him to be successful. My allegiance is to him. I want his team to do well. It's a reflection on him and every other African-American."

Newsome said that he and Aaron are not especially close -- they've met only four or five times. But the feeling of admiration is mutual.

"I grew up with Hank when the Braves moved from Milwaukee," Newsome said. "That was the only thing we had on TV or radio. He became one of my childhood heroes."

And Aaron became one of the Browns' biggest fans.

"I've always kind of wondered about that, but you can understand it," Newsome said. "When he was growing up, the Cleveland Browns were the team. They were like the New York Yankees of football."

Aaron was so devoted to the Browns, he occasionally would fly in for games and sit in the bleachers at Municipal Stadium, wearing a hat and sunglasses as a disguise, Ravens vice president of public relations Kevin Byrne said.

Hammerin' Hank in the Dawg Pound?

It's almost too much to imagine.

Aaron also attended Browns practices in Berea, Ohio, but he has yet to make it to a Ravens practice or game in Maryland. This year marked the 25th anniversary of his record 715th home run. His schedule has been packed with events.

Still, Aaron is as knowledgeable about the Ravens as many season-ticket holders, benefiting from a new media age in which even out-of-town fans can gain access to information about their favorite teams.

Here's his take on the Ravens' quarterbacks:

"I don't know what happened to Tony Banks. I've heard some conflicting reports," Aaron said. "To say I've been disappointed in Scott Mitchell -- yes. I don't know enough about football, but it just seemed like he never got himself in shape to play.

"This kid Stoney Case can do some things. He's more athletic than Scott Mitchell. Tony Banks has been sort of a puzzle to me. I don't know if he ever got the chance to play on a regular basis. He has a great arm. I thought he had a good preseason. I still like Tony Banks. I think he has a lot of talent."

Pretty fair analysis. And Aaron was just getting started.

Boulware?

"I watched him when he was at Florida State. When the Ravens were going to draft him, I was hoping they wouldn't trade the pick."

Jermaine Lewis?

"I'm scared he won't play a whole season. If he was a little bit bigger, he'd be another [Randy] Moss.

McAlister and Duane Starks?

"They remind me of the guys the Browns had many years ago, Frank Minnifield and Hanford Dixon. I think these kids are going to do well."

Aaron also follows the Ravens off the field. He said he is aware of owner Art Modell's financial problems, but isn't interested in becoming an investor.

"I wished I could, but I don't have enough money," Aaron said. "All mine is in my BMW dealerships."

With that, baseball's all-time home run king chuckled. He doesn't need to mix business with pleasure. He's just living for Sunday, living for his Ravens, living to be a fan.

Pub Date: 10/02/99

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