New York Daily News
HANK’S HISTORIC EVENING!
Here’s how the Daily News told the story when Aaron passed The Babe
ATLANTA, APRIL 8 — It will say in the record books, perhaps for the remainder of your lifetime: most home runs, career, Henry Louis Aaron, and after it will come a number. Right now, that number is 715, because Monday night, with a flair for the dramatic that would have made the Babe smile, Hank Aaron smashed a home run to place George Herman Ruth No. 2.
And for the rest of your life there will be arguments about that, in ballparks, in bars, among kids in classrooms. Who is really the greatest home run hitter who ever lived? Is it Hank Aaron, who hit the most, or is it the Babe, who hit them when nobody else was doing it; who hit his 714 in 8,399 at bats, compared to Henry’s 11,295.
Accentuating some debate, unfortunately, will be the fact that Hank Aaron is black, and the Babe was white. But that depraved approach is fading. Monday night, in the deep South, a black man was cheered to the heavens by a crowd of 53,775, predominately white.
They had come to see history made. They were the most people ever to pack into this round ballpark, and they came festively, as though Henry Aaron had promised he would do it. There was no doubt in their mind, not if Al Downing dared get the ball over the plate.
Leading off the second inning, the first time up, Al Downing did not dare. The Dodger southpaw worked cautiously, almost nervously: Ball one, high (Boooooooo). Strike called, outside corner (Booooo. Not for Downing: for the plate umpire, Satch Davidson). Ball two in the dirt (Booooo). Ball three, low (Boooooo). Ball four, outside (Boooooooo). When Aaron next came up, in the fourth, Darrell Evans was on base and the Braves trailed, 3-1.
Ball one, in the dirt (Booooooooo).
Then it happened. Fast ball, right down the pipe. With the short compact swing, Hank Aaron’s bat flashed at the old cowhide - and the ball took off, toward left-center. A roar ascended to the sprinkling black sky overhead. The people were on their feet, pushing the ball with their voices go . . . go . . . go.
Bill Buckner, the Dodgers’ leftfielder, turned and raced back to the wire fence, near the 385 sign. He dug his spikes into the mesh and went up, trying to abort history. You can’t fool Mother Nature.
Into the bullpen beyond, it sailed, and into the glove of a wind-jacketed Atlanta pitcher, who stuck up his hand near the rear wall.
Now Henry danced around the bases to the tune of 50,000 voices singing his praises - jogging in that shot-strided gate of his. When he reached second, he was picked up by a young convoy, two boys in their late teens who had appeared as if from nowhere. They jogged behind him by a step then left him at third base and dashed for the stands, two fully clothed streakers, hoping to escape the arm of the law. They failed.
Later, when asked what the kids might have said to him, Hank Aaron said “were there two boys running behind me?”
He was in a dream world. What was he thinking about? What does a man’s mind think about when he has broken one of the most revered records in the world?
“I just wanted to touch all the bases,” said the uncomplicated hero.
He started the last 90 feet alone and, as he approached it, there was Ralph Garr, little Ralph Garr, in the midst of the other Braves, to take
Henry by the hand and guide him to the plate. There is something a little special between Hank Aaron and Ralph Garr.
“Ralph told me he was going to guide me that last step,” said Hank at the press conference that followed.
Before meeting the newsmen in a special conference room, Aaron had been toasted privately in the clubhouse by teammates, Moet Chardon champagne.
“I give you Henry Aaron,” proposed Eddie Mathews, one-time teammate and now the manager of the Braves, “the greatest ballplayer and the greatest guy I have ever known.”
Yeaaaaa ‘speech . . . speech.’ Hank Aaron jumped onto the table in the middle of the clubhouse floor. “I promised Ralph Garr I was gonna do it,” he said, looking at the locker next to his, “because so many newspapermen had been hanging around my locker, I was afraid he’d get trampled to death.”
They all laughed, and they cheered, just as the people had cheered in that fourth inning. When Hank Aaron stepped on the plate, his mother, Estella, was there pushing through the players and photogs. Mrs. Aaron threw a motherly hug around her son’s neck and squeezed with such adoring vigor. She almost put him on the disabled list, Hank was to say later. “I didn’t know my mother could hug that hard,” he said.
Herbert Aaron pounded his son’s back and head. Hank, grinning from ear to ear, broke away from the pack and headed for the fieldbox behind the plate. There, weeping with joy, stood Billye Aaron, his bride of five months. He tilted his face upward. She leaned over. They kissed, long and hard, alone among 53,000 people.
A mike and stand were moved onto the field nearby. Fireworks were exploding overhead. The huge lighted scoreboard in left-center bore the glaring number: 715.
The ball, the ball, somebody asked excitedly. And suddenly, there it was, thrust into Hank Aaron’s hand. Tommy House, lefty relief pitcher, the smallish man who had caught it, had run in with it to make the presentation personally - giving up this ball that had drawn prior bids of up to $26,000 from various collectors across the land.
“I told him before the game,” House was to say, “I would give it to him if I caught it. We kidded earlier about Sammy Davis offering $25,000, but I’m sure my decision is the right one. I feel super, and that counts more than money.” There’s a ballplayer who is going no place.
Tom House revealed that the Dodger leftfielder, Bill Buckner, was screaming wildly as he raced to the fence with the ball overhead: “Let me have it, let me have it.”
“He had no chance,” said House. “Even with his climb, it cleared his glove by about 10 feet.”
Aaron said, at his conference, that he lefts the umpire watch them; he just runs them out.
As he sat down behind the mikes on the table, his wife alongside, Hank said he wanted to make a statement before answering questions:
“First of all, there has been a lot written as far as Cincinnati is concerned” - a reference to the controversy of where he should try for homers No. 714 and 715. He had hit 714 on opening day in Cincy, then sat out the next game at the decision of the Braves’ management, then played the third game by order of Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. In that third game, Aaron looked awful, fanning twice and grounding out once before being lifted.
“I have never gone out on the ball field that I didn’t give my level best,” he said. “I read where I was a disgrace to the ball club. I wanted to hit it here, and if God didn’t see fit for me to hit it here, I wouldn’t have. “
It was an emotional and rambling disclaimer to any suspicion that he had deliberately made out in Cincinnati Sunday, to save it for the home fans. To anyone who knows Hank Aaron, the statement was superfluous.
The geographic controversy had made Commissioner Kuhn the most popular man in Atlanta since General Sherman. Endearing signs spotted the ballpark tonight: “Fooey on Bowie.”
The Commissioner was not here for this casual occurrence. He had gone, instead, to Cleveland, so as not to miss Tuesday’s Indian-Brewer opener. An event of that consequence demanded his presence.
Monte Irvin, Hall of Famer and member of Kuhn’s staff, represented him here. During the 11-minute delay, while Hank was being acclaimed at home plate,
Irvin presented a solid gold wrist watch, encrusted with diamonds and valued at $3,000. When Irvin mentioned it was a gift from Bowie Kuhn, the crowd booed louder than it had the umpire - and the Fooey on Bowie signs were jiggled in the air like placards at a political convention.
Much of the time during the delay, Hank waved the treasured ball overhead to the crowd. It like No. 714, and the bat that struck each, becomes the property of the Magnavox company, with whom Aaron has signed a million dollar promotional deal. Tom House, ball-retriever, will receive a TV set of his choosing, said Henry.
“Do you feel a load off your shoulders?” Henry was asked later. “Oh,” said the man with the cool veneer, “you don’t know what it was like.”
Somebody asked Hank if he would consider managing a big league club when he quits after this year. Henry had insisted all along he had no desire to manage, but he has changed his attitude.
“If there hasn’t been a black manager named at the time,” he said. “I certainly would take the job. But now I don’t want to be a manager.” It appears that the new Mrs. Aaron has altered some of Hank’s thinkings.
“Is hitting this home run everything you expected it to be?” he was asked.
“Right now,” he said, “it is just another home run. I’ll probably wake up tomorrow morning and realize what it really means for the first time.”
Somebody brought up the Babe Ruth comparison. Speaking with deep respect, referring to him as Mr. Ruth, Hank Aaron said something about the span of 39 years, and the almost 3,000 more at-bats he has had. That is nothing to apologize for, said Hank. “For years, I have been somewhat slighted by awards that other players have received. I have worked very hard. I have played a lot of ballgames when I didn’t feel well.”
For purposes comparison:
All Aaron’s home runs have been struck for the Braves, albeit some for the Milwaukee Braves and others for the Atlanta Braves. Ruth hit his of historic first 49 for Boston’s Red Sox, his next 659 for the Yankees, his last six for the Boston Braves of the NL.
Both were 40 years old when they did it. Ruth, however, quit the Braves a week after hitting 714, in a dispute with the club over his status as playing-veep. Aaron intends to call it quits, amicably, at the end of this season, and projects his final total as between 735 and 740. He has, in his more ebullient moments said it might even be a nice round 750.
Ruth’s 714 was hit off Guy Bush of the Pirates on May 25, 1935; Aaron’s 714 came against Jack Billingham of the Reds, on April 4, 1974 and 715 off Al Downing on April 8, at 9:07 PM. All these things will win you trivia contests some distant day.
But in this, Hank Aaron has a common ground with the Babe - the champion’s touch to do big things on big occasions, and do them with a dramatic flair. Last Thursday, on his first swing of the season, before a packed house in Cincinnati, he hit No. 714 to tie the Babe. Now, Monday night, on his first swing, he hit No. 715 to pass him.
Only the finger pointed to the stands was missing.