Tuesday, April 23rd, 2019

Henry Aaron’s 715th – April 8, 1974

April 9, 2010 by  
Filed under Baseball History, Baseball Writing

A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking the record of the all time idol of baseball. This is a great moment for all of us”  … Vin Scully

Although many memories are hazy after thirty some years, I can still vividly remember where I was when Henry Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s immortal home run record.  While Watergate and its drama were in full view of the nation, I was more focused on getting through the last few months of High School and then off to college.  There was a group of girls and guys sitting together in a friend’s rec room watching Monday Night baseball, but more importantly, watching history take place.  

At 9:07pm EST, we would not be disappointed.  That was the time that Al Downing threw the fateful 1-0 pitch and Hammerin’ Hank, with his strong-wristed swing, deposited the ball into the left-field bullpen, in front of the First National Bank sign and directly into Brave pitcher Tom House’s waiting glove.

This magical moment inspired many wonderful written and spoken words.  I have included some below.

Washington Post – April 9, 1974 Page D1 by William Barry Furlong [from my own weather-beaten copy]

Downing stood on the mound offering his own tribute; he quietly applauded Aaron as the Atlanta slugger rushed into the arms of his teammates.

The game was halted for 11 minutes as fans and teammates and officials milled around on the field to memorialize the moment and to congratulate Aaron.

Balloons floated upward and fireworks crackled in the sky.  Member of the Atlanta bullpen crew loped in from behind the left-field screen.  An Atlanta relief pitcher, Tom House had retrieved the ball.

Hank Aaron and the Home Run the Changed America by Tom Stanton

Tom Stanton is the author of two memoirs, The Road to Cooperstown and The Final Season, winner of the 2001 CASEY Award for best baseball book of the year.  Stanton’s Aaron received a 4.81 rating on amazon.com, an almost unheard of rating.

From the book synopsis: His historic blast on April 8, 1974, lifted him above Babe Ruth on the all-time list, an achievement that shook not only baseball but our nation itself. Aaron’s magnificent feat provoked bigotry and shattered prejudice, inspired a generation, emboldened a flagging civil rights movement, and called forth the demons that haunted Aaron’s every step and turned what should have been a joyous pursuit into a hellish nightmare.

In this powerful recollection, Tom Stanton penetrates the myth of Aaron’s chase and uncovers the compelling story behind the most consequential athletic achievement of the past fifty years. Three decades after Hank Aaron reached the pinnacle of the national pastime, and now as Barry Bonds makes history of his own, Stanton unfolds a tale rich with drama, poignancy, and suspense to bring to life the elusive spirit of an American hero.

Final Twist of the Drama by George Plimpton (Sports Illustrated April 22, 1974)

About Al Downing:  The poor guy.  All those years toiling on the mound, peering down the long alley toward the plate at those constant disturbers of his sense of well-being settling into their stances and flicking their bats–to look down one day and find Henry Aaron there, the large, peaceful, dark face with the big eyes and the high forehead–and knowing that one mistake, one small lapse of concentration and ability would place his name forever in the record books as having thrown the “immortal gopher.”

Plimpton followed Aaron during the 1973 and 1974 season as he pursued Babe Ruth’s home-run record.  The essay above was expanded into a book, One for the Record.

Live TV and Radio Calls

Three announcers were in Atlanta’s Fulton County Standium calling the game. Curt Gowdy, Milo Hamilton, and Vin Scully were all on hand to call the historic shot.  Vin’s call is particularly poignant

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 the record of the all time idol of baseball. This is a great moment for all of us and particularly Henry Aaron.

and lastly, here is a video of that wonderful moment in baseball history and a brief biography of Hammerin’ Hank.

Comments

2 Responses to “Henry Aaron’s 715th – April 8, 1974”
  1. George Case says:

    Just wanted you to know – Al Downing and I are very good friends – we started playing basketball and baseball against one another in high school – also Al’s major league debut was against the “expansion” Washington Senators in 1961 – my dad, George Case Jr, a former major league player also from Trenton NJ, Al’s hometown, was coaching third base for the Senators that day.

    Al and I last saw one another quite a few years ago as we appeared on a baseball panel together prior to a Trenton Thunder AA (Yankees) baseball game at Waterfront Park in Trenton NJ

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