Today in History: April 8

… 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.—Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, April 8, 1974

Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves hit the 715th home run of his career in Atlanta in the fourth inning of a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on this date in 1974. The number broke a record for career home runs that had been set when Babe Ruth hit his final home run in 1935. (Aaron’s final record of 755 homers stood until 2007.)

The game was broadcast nationally by NBC, and one of the Los Angeles Dodgers broadcasters, Vin Scully, was also one of NBC’s national baseball announcers. (Flash forward to 2016: Scully started doing play-by-play for the Dodgers in the 1950 season, when they played at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York, and were my mom’s favorite team. This season is slated to be Scully’s final one broadcasting Dodgers games, a 67-season broadcasting record that may never be broken itself.)

Aaron received hate mail and death threats for months leading up to the 1974 season and his attempts to tie and break the record. He did not reveal until after he retired just how bad it got, how specific the death threats got (baseball players do not wear bulletproof vests on the field). He kept a tight grin, a “poker face,” as Scully described it in his broadcast, throughout. It was an ordeal. “I thank God it’s all over with,” Aaron told the crowd.

After he hit the home run, Aaron was greeted at home plate by his parents, and the 40-year-old man was briefly, joyfully, once again a little boy playing sandlot ball in front of his parents.

Years later, I saw Hank Aaron at a baseball card show, where, for a fee, patrons could stand on line and have something autographed. I did not have the money to pay a fee, so I stood and simply gawped at the hero from a-near. He was scheduled to sign from noon till five o’clock, and at five, he stood, pulled on his camel overcoat, said a thank you and shook hands with some official-looking people, started to walk out of the venue. Not three steps away from the table where he had been sitting, a dad and a kid walked up to him—and he signed autographs for them. For free. A couple other people approached, tentatively, and he signed things for them, too. For free. That is why whenever I see the name “Hank Aaron,” I’m a little boy watching baseball for the first time all over again.

Here is Vin Scully’s call from this date in 1974:

* * * *
Congregation Shearith Israel, the first Jewish congregation in America, which was established in 1654, consecrated its first synagogue on this date in 1730. It was on Mill Street in Manhattan.

* * * *
The Aphrodite of Milos, more commonly known as the Venus de Milo, was found on this date in 1820 in a cave in the ruins of Milos, on the island of Milos.

* * * *
Pablo Picasso died on this date in 1973. General Omar Bradley died 35 years ago today. Ryan White died on this date in 1990. Marian Anderson died in 1993 on this date. Laura Nyro died in 1997 on this date. Sol LeWitt died in 2007 on this date. Prime Minister Margaret thatcher died three years ago today.

* * * *
Betty Ford was born on this date in 1918. Carmen McRae was born on this date in 1920. Jim “Catfish” Hunter was born on this date in 1946. Gary Carter would be 62 today.

* * * *
Shecky Greene is 90 today. He still performs in Las Vegas. Ambassador John Gavin is 85. Seymour Hersh is 79. John Havlicek is 76. Stuart Pankin is 70 today. Tim Thomerson is 70 today. Steve Howe is 69. Jim Lampley is 67. Barbara Kingsolver is 61. Jim Piddock is 60. John Schneider is 56. Izzy Stradlin is 54. Julian Lennon is 53. Robin Wright is 50. That is sufficient reason for this moment, “As you wish”:

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  1. Lola · April 8, 2016

    Oh, thank you for the Hank Aaron clip! Brought tears to my eyes.

    Liked by 1 person

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