Sunday, May 28, 2006

April 8,1974

I was 12 years old. The Atlanta Braves were playing the Los Angeles Dodgers at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. It was a Monday night, the ballpark was packed and NBC was broadcasting the game live, with Curt Gowdy doing the announcing with Tony Kubek.

A huge audience tuned in, as they awaited to see history being made. Henry Aaron, nicknamed "Hammerin' Hank" had one home run in his first three games, and was currently sitting on 714 career home runs, tied with the immortal Babe Ruth. The opposition pitcher was Al Downing, a left-hander.

The game was 3-1 Dodgers when Hank came up for the second time in the third inning. Downing threw Hank a fastball down the middle of the plate, and he struck hit hard, and as soon as it left the bat you knew where it was going. The Dodgers' left fielder, Bill Buckner, made an attempt in vain to climb the wall to catch it. It cleared the fence, landed in the Braves bullpen where it was caught by relief pitcher Tom House.

Aaron ran the bases relieved the pursuit of the Babe was finally over. Opposition players greeted him warmly as he rounded each base. Two guys jumped out of the stands to greet Hank as he headed for third. After he crossed home plate, Hank was mobbed by his Atlanta teammates and by his mother. He could finally smile, as the record finally belonged to him.

It was finally over for Aaron. He had reached immortality. He would hit 40 more home runs and play two more seasons. The chase had taken its toll on him. Many people didn't want him to break it, and let him know with the vilest of racist hate mail. Aaron handled it all with grace and dignity. I rooted for him all the way. Back when I was 12, it didn't matter to me that Hank Aaron was black. He wasn't breaking a white man's record in my mind. He was breaking a YANKEE'S record, and that was good enough for me.

Hank Aaron has held the home run record for more than 32 years now. In all the nonsense that has gone down regarding illegal drugs the last few years, people have come to appreciate Hank Aaron, as well as Roger Maris' home run records a little more, and that's a good thing.

What happened today in San Francisco didn't move me one bit. But it brought back memories of a special night back when I was still a young boy, a night when baseball history was made.

What will remember from this day? Two things: it was my nephew's first communion, and the Red Sox almost blew a five-run lead in the ninth inning, but held on and won.

And that's all.


Michael Leggett said...

In the time that Aaron was on his way to passing Ruth, yankee fans were carrying on about Aaron.

The Ruthian Era compared to Aaron's Time is like comparing apples & oranges.

How would Babe have fared in the era of Day & Night games & modern day bullpens, as well as the coming of The Game's Integration, as well as trips to the West Coast?

Michael Leggett said...

Bill Buckner seems to be there @ all those moments in Baseball History, only a lot more mobile in 1974.