DURING a national media teleconference last week, Hank Aaron was asked why Babe Ruth and not Aaron is generally acknowledged to be baseball's home-run king. After all, Aaron outslugged Ruth over his career with 41 more homers, surpassing Ruth's total of 714 on April 8, 1974.
In celebrating the 20th anniversary of his achievement, Aaron graciously tipped his hat to the Sultan of Swat, pointing out that Ruth was the game's pioneering power hitter, the one who made long balls a new athletic art form. Then, too, Ruth was unforgettable in many other ways, including physically, with his barrel-shaped torso, and mythically, with the famous ``called shot'' home run in the 1932 World Series (a story that Aaron considers bunk).
Another factor favoring Ruth is that his single-season high of 60 homers is easier to remember than Aaron's career total of 755. Furthermore, a record set during a single season is more easily compared than one set over a career. Aaron played 23 major-league seasons, Ruth 22.
Ruth lost the single-season home-run record to fellow Yankee Roger Maris in 1961, when his 61 home runs made Maris almost a villain in some eyes. An asterisk appeared next to Maris's name in the record book for many years, because he played a 162-game season, Ruth 154.
Aaron also felt the ire of those who resented his assault on Ruth's hallowed record. Being black further inflamed some people's view of him. Aaron handed over his worst hate mail to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But he says in his autobiography (``I Had a Hammer: The Hank Aaron Story,'' 1991) that the majority of the 930,000 pieces of mail he received in 1973 leading up to his record-breaking homer were supportive. (That account, by the way, is one of the best sports autobiographies this writer has read.) Today, Aaron is on the board of the Atlanta Braves and is vice president for business development for the Airport Channel. Travel advisory: Head for Toronto
MAKING summer vacation plans? Here's a tip for sports fans. Consider the double-feature spectating possibilities in Toronto in August. The city hosts the world championship of men's basketball from Aug. 4 to 14. The Toronto Blue Jays, the World Series champions, are at home part of that time, with plenty of seats still available for an Aug. 8-10 series with the Cleveland Indians.
The number for basketball ticket information is (416) 444-2525. For Blue Jays information, call (416) 341-1000. This is the first time the basketball championships have come to North America in their 44-year existence. Sixteen countries have qualified for the tournament, including the United States, which is sending a team that bears a Dream Team II trademark. To see the Dream Team, a ticket to a second, non-US game must be purchased. Tickets to less-popular games are sold individually. Sampras sizzles on tennis circuit
WOMEN'S tennis is accustomed to dominant players, but the men's game has not had a Monica Seles or Steffi Graf for a while. Now Pete Sampras is filling that bill with a career-best start that includes six tournament victories on the 1994 tour. His latest, secured with a straight-set win over fellow American Michael Chang, came in the Japan Open last Sunday. Even before the tournament, Sampras owned the largest lead in history of the pro-tour rankings. He's held the No. 1 ranking for 31 straight weeks and will enter the French Open on May 23 as the winner of the last three Grand Slam titles - Wimbledon, US Open, and Australian Open. Sampras has won 33 of 35 matches this year and his last three tournaments.