Mr. Aaron, 8 April 1974

Henry Aaron and company, 8 April 1974

Henry Aaron and company, 8 April 1974

Forty years ago this evening Hank Aaron stepped to the plate in Atlanta. He hit an Al Downing pitch into the Braves bullpen for his 715th home run. As he rounded the bases a couple of fans joined him producing one of baseball’s more iconic moments.

They showed the game on TV that night. Back then there weren’t nightly baseball games. You had three networks and regular season games were only shown on the weekends. Some genius at one of the networks (NBC, I think, but am not sure) decided to take a chance and so a nation got to watch a black man establish one of the most hallowed records in American sport.

My wife and I watched the game. I had mixed feelings. It was my Dodgers and I didn’t want them to be remembered as the team that gave up “the home run.” On the other hand I didn’t mind Aaron breaking the record. I knew who Babe Ruth was and respected the legend, but I liked Aaron and if someone was going to break the record he was a good pick.

There was a lot of opposition to Aaron surpassing Ruth. Much of it was racial. The idea of a black man holding the greatest of all Ruth’s records was horrifying to many. To others, the idea of anyone, black, white, or purple, racing passed the Babe was terrible. Ruth was, after all, the greatest of all American sports figures, towering over not only baseball, but sports in general. And suddenly here was this little man (Aaron wasn’t a huge slugger like Frank Howard) about to relegate the Babe to second place in home runs.

Well, Henry Aaron did it and the world didn’t stop on its axis. We moved on, the Ruth legend still grips us, just not as strongly. And Aaron now has his place in our pantheon. Good for him. Congratulations, Henry. I think you’re great.

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9 Responses to “Mr. Aaron, 8 April 1974”

  1. William Miller Says:

    Al Downing, right? Didn’t get to watch it, but of course I heard about it all the next day at school. Don’t remember any kids who weren’t glad about it. I wonder whatever happened to those two guys who accompanied Aaron around the bases?

    • steve Says:

      I failed to click onto Bill’s comment to make a thread. Sorry about that. I wanted him to see that article. I had never thought about it until Bill mentioned them.

      • verdun2 Says:

        Not a problem. Bill will probably see it. He comes over here a lot (he’s something of a glutton for punishment).

  2. steve Says:

    Nice tribute. Those two guys you were asking about Bill reunited with Aaron a few years ago. Apparently, they kept up the relationship through the years. One is Dr. Cliff Courtenay. He’s an optometrist. There must be a story waiting to hatch from that or maybe an epic poem or Haiku.

    Here’s an article about the two guys and Aaron’s autograph in between them. No surprise how accepting Aaron was in turning the trio into a legend.

  3. William Miller Says:

    Hey Guys, Yep, here I am again. Steve, thanks for sending along that article. Nice find!

  4. glenrussellslater Says:

    I wasn’t watching the game. Mike Kaplan, a friend of mine, and I were at the New York Nets basketball game at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. They announced it over the loudspeaker during the game. Yes, the story that I wrote was loosely based on that, only neither Mike Kaplan nor I were Chasidic Jews (although we are both Chasidic, and Mike Kaplan WAS trying to decide if he should get Whoppers Malted Milk Balls out of a vending machine; the question was—- “Were Whoppers Malted Milk Balls Kosher for Passover or not?????”

    As for Henry Aaron (he HATED the name the media gave him- Hank), as far as I’m concerned, he is STILL the home run king. Who the hell is Barry Bonds????

    Aaron was the greatest wrist hitter in the history of baseball. Well, actually one of my teachers was. She was very good at hitting misbehaving students on the wrists—– with a ruler.

    By the way, Henry Aaron not only hated the name “Hank”, but he also resents that people remember him mostly for THE HOME RUN. He was a heck of an all-around player, and this often goes unrecognized and unacknowledged.

    One more thing, V. I recommend a good book about Hank Aaron. It’s called “The Last Hero- The Life of Henry Aaron.” I enjoyed reading it.


  5. glenrussellslater Says:

    I made a mistake. What I meant to say is that NEITHER Mike Kaplan and I were or are Chasidic Jews, although we are Jews. Mike is much more observant than I am; I doubt that he ate as much bacon and ham in his house while growing up as we did!


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