Wednesday February 5th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL
Today is the 80th birthday of one of my all time heroic icons Hank Aaron. Boy does it make me feel old. I’m sure he’s got plenty of aches and pains of his own, but it doesn’t take anything away from the outstanding accomplishments he achieved in his amazing career. He touched the sky.
I still remember watching him hit his 715th home run on April 8th, 1974 against the Dodgers off pitcher Al Downing on a tiny black and white TV set up on an ironing board in my grandparents’ basement. They were watching another program on their own black and white TV, and they were less than thrilled when I interrupted whatever they were watching with my screams of delight.
Gramps was a sports fan so he got it at least a little, but Grandma was really into whatever they were watching and I thought she was going to find a baseball bat and start swinging at me. She’d never liked sports, and thought it was all a big waste of time. It meant absolutely nothing to her.
But what an electric moment that was. Baseball was my life source then, and all anyone talked about at school was when he would break the home run record. It was extra big in Milwaukee as he came up with the Braves in 1954 and played with them until they moved to Atlanta in 1966.
The media in Milwaukee talked about it constantly, as I’m sure they did everywhere else. That was THE baseball record, and I assumed everyone was cheering for him to break it like all of my friends in the neighborhood and I were. To us it was a Milwaukee thing, as he had played there.
I don’t think I found out until years later what a horrible experience it was for him, and all the ugly hate mail he received. I was stunned, and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth even today. It’s downright embarrassing that people would behave like that, but obviously they did. It’s a shame.
White people haven’t done much to win me over as a group, even though I was born into their population. Human beings in general don’t thrill me when I hear stories like that, but I don’t see it getting any better anytime soon. Hank Aaron is great regardless of what ethnicity he might be.
From a baseball standpoint, he was the picture of consistency throughout his career. He was an all star 25 times. WOW. That alone is a staggering figure. He also has the most runs batted in of all time. There’s another monster statistic. He had 17 consecutive seasons with 150 or more hits, and his number was retired by two teams. If there was ever a Hall of Fame player, Aaron was it.
When I was in high school, he came to our school to make a speech. I don’t recall what it was for, but my friend Jeff Phelps and I skipped out at lunch and went to buy baseballs to get signed when he showed up. That was the only time I’d ever skipped out of school, but I don’t regret it.
A limousine pulled up in front of Messmer High School that afternoon, and Jeff and I ran out with our fresh white baseballs and pens in hand. There was an entourage with him and everyone was surprised to see us. He signed the two baseballs, and then someone said “OK, no others.”
That’s a memory I won’t forget, and I’ll always be a fan of his accomplishments. I’m sorry he had to endure what he did. Happy birthday Hank Aaron, your greatness is forever appreciated.
|To baseball fans of my generation, this was the biggest moment ever.|
|This is the baseball card every kid in my neighborhood wanted in 1974.|
|I love this quote.|