Since then, of course, a collection of chemical enhancements wearing the skin of Barry Bonds has hit more home runs and is now listed as baseball's all-time home run leader. Both men closed in on the record in the middle of much distraction and questions about the legitimacy of them taking the places of their predecessors.
Many of Aaron's opponents did not want to see a black man hold one of baseball's most hallowed records. In his 1991 autobiography I Had a Hammer, he printed some of the hate mail and actual death threats he received in the summer between the 1973 and 1974 seasons. I've never claimed special enlightenment in racial matters, but I simply cannot get my mind around the kind of thinking that would suggest that "homering while black" is a capital offense. Aaron's ability to focus, play ball and succeed as an athlete and a man of dignity in the midst of that kind of evil speaks volumes about his character.
People question the legitimacy of Bonds' mark, of course, because of his demonstrated steroid use. Any quick comparison of pictures of Bonds from his days as half of the Pittsburgh Pirates' "Killer Bs" (along with Bobby Bonilla) with pictures of him in recent years shows bulk that just does not compute with a couple extra hours a week on the lat pull.
Of course, during most of the years of his career that he might have used steroids, Major League Baseball didn't ban them, so Bonds didn't actually cheat. He played within the rules of the time, and it's not fair -- or possible -- to retroactively apply new rules to him and try to devise some formula that can give a more accurate count of how many home runs he hit. A home run is a ball hit over the fence in fair territory, and there aren't too many ways to make that criteria more objective than it already is. In each case, there was a number and it represented how many home runs some other player had hit. And in each case, the man pursuing that number hit more.
But one guy's path to the number made him a hero, and that's something that has lasted far longer than any record. The other guy's path made him...what? Hard to say, but I don't hear the word "hero" used about him nearly as much.
ETA: Yes, there are also inside-the-park home runs and home runs that bounce off parts of the stadium or Jose Canseco's head. I think we know which kind are best.