RIP to HR King by John Brecko
Image Credit: People.com
"Henry Aaron, in the second inning walked and scored. He's sittin' on 714. Here's the pitch by Downing. Swinging. There's a drive into left-center field. That ball is gonna be-eee ... Outta here! It's gone! It's 715! There's a new home run champion of all time, and it's Henry Aaron! The fireworks are going. Henry Aaron is coming around third. His teammates are at home plate. And listen to this crowd!"
-Former Braves Announcer, Milo Hamilton on April 8, 1974 when Hank Aaron hit his 715th homerun, surpassing Babe Ruth’s homerun record.
"What a marvelous moment for baseball; what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia; what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron ... And for the first time in a long time, that poker face in Aaron shows the tremendous strain and relief of what it must have been like to live with for the past several months."
-Dodgers announcer, Vin Scully on April 8th, 1974 when Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run, surpassing Babe Ruth’s homerun record.
Hank Aaron was sent more than 3,000 hate letters every day in the lead up to achieving a new homerun record in baseball. This was during a time when many were less accepting of those who looked different. This was during a time when many were less accepting of those who talked different. This was during a time when many were less accepting of those who had different customs or thought differently than others. This was also during a time when baseball was truly America’s national pastime. Hank Aaron’s biggest fear after the 1973 MLB season was that he would not live to see the 1974 season, because he had only hit 713 home runs by September 29 of that year and was unable to tie the record in the Atlanta Braves season finale against the Houston Astros the next day.
On “First Take”, Stephen A. Smith went on to say this about one of baseball’s most iconic players,
“Stephen A. Smith is not sitting here today if it weren’t for people like himself (referring to Hank Aaron), Jackie Robinson, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali and some of the great iconic African Americans who not only excelled in the world of sports, but they extended their reach far beyond the field or the court of play for the betterment of us as a people.”
Stephen A. Smith not only made that statement referring to black people as a race. I believe “the betterment of us a people” means we became better as a nation because of people like Hank Aaron because we made progress in learning to accept each other for our differences as many of us bonded through our interest in sports. Sports brings people together whether people are watching on their television, in a stadium, at a bar, in a restaurant or otherwise.
When you hit 755 homeruns, you are given the nickname “Hammerin’ Hank” for a reason. However, Hank Aaron did so much more than that for this nation as a whole. The world we live in today is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but Hank Aaron helped make it better because of what he was willing to go through for the sport he loved.
Forty-six years later, you are still the homerun king. Your forehead did not triple in size when you broke Babe Ruth’s record. You were the same “Hammerin’ Hank in 1974 that you were in your rookie year in 1955.
Hank Aaron has stated in the past that the record he was the most proud of was his total bases, which today is 6,856 (still unbroken) because he reflects his performance as a team player. Hank Aaron was described as quiet, reserved and gentle. When you look at the record he is proud of and how others describe him, it is easy to connect these two facts in my opinion.
No matter what you went through personally, you were always the same person to everyone who knew you in Major League Baseball.
When you talk about people who are “gone, but never forgotten”, Hank Aaron is someone who personifies that notion. Thank you Mr. Homerun King. Even if someone finally does break your record, they will still never leave a legacy that is quite the same as yours.