I'm this many," said Dorinda Aaron, holding up four fingers, "and I'm going to have a party." She will be 5 years old next February 5, a day when National League pitchers might well raise a cup of cheer, because Dorinda's daddy, Bad Henry, will be 33. Their enemy grows older.
But not so you could notice. "I can serve you a beer," the lady in the sweltering Atlanta airport said to Aaron's companion, "but this young man will have to show me his I.D. card."
"Why, that man is 30 years old," the other lady said.
"Damn," Henry said, flabbergasted and delighted. "Damn. I thought she was putting me on."
"That's what I told you, Henry," said Atlanta Braves President John McHale. "Don't ever get older than 30."
The greatest cross-handed hitter in the history of the Negro American League has ballooned to 180 pounds in the 14 years since the Braves gave him a ticket to Eau Claire, Wis. and orders to keep his right hand on top, but the extra 10 pounds are packed neatly around his chest cavity. In the body of a sophomore halfback Henry Aaron has developed the mind of a computer, and he'll be the next 3,000-hit man unless Willie Mays beats him to it. Or unless he suffers a crippling injury. Don't count on the latter. Aaron has averaged 153 games a season since he broke an ankle in his rookie year, 1954.
"He not only knows what the pitch will be," says Ron Perranoski, the Dodger relief pitcher who has held Bad Henry to an .812 average (13 for 16) in six seasons, "but where it will be. He's hit one home run off me [out of center held in Dodger Stadium], and he went after that pitch as if he'd called for it."
"It was a fast ball, high and away," said Aaron, who can recite the locus and characteristics of each of the 26 pitches he hit for home runs in the first half of the season. "It was the first pitch, and I guess I was looking for it. I figured he'd try to set me up for the sinker."
"Pitchers don't set Henry up," said teammate Gene Oliver. "He sets them up. I honestly believe he intentionally looks bad on a certain pitch just so he'll get it again."
"Well, not too often," Aaron said. "But say it's a breaking pitch that's going to hit on the plate. I might let my tail fly out a little and miss it and look foolish. Then the pitcher might throw that same pitch for a strike some other time—with two on."