Henry Aaron: 1934–2021

A personal memory of the all-time great.

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Henry Aaron, the greatest baseball player in history, died this morning at the age of 86. Because he played in an era in which baseball was a part of what it felt like to be an American, his impact on the sport extended far beyond baseball. America needed Hank Aaron (and Willie Mays and so many others) in ways that it still has not started to appreciate.

In baseball, his statistics will always be eye-popping: if one removes his 755 home runs from his hit total, he still had more than 3000 hits. That is only the beginning of his importance in baseball history. I caught a glimpse once of how he carried himself as a person, which for me has long represented some of the reasons he could have that impact on American society far beyond his baseball card stats. I’ll tell that brief story below.

On April 8, 1974, Aaron hit the 715th home run of his career in Atlanta in the fourth inning of a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was a member of the Atlanta Braves and had been for two decades. His 715th homer 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.)
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Pandemic Diary 8: The Flat Curve

I could never hit the curve. Also, as if consistent physical incompetence was to be sole consistency that nature would bestow on me, I could not throw the curve, either.

Never athletic anyway, the absence of athletic ability from the start of my life was not a factor in any life decisions. And now, disabled as I am, almost every physical activity qualifies as athletic. (I walk a couple of miles each day because I can and ought to.) But I wanted to be a baseball player …
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Pandemic Diary 7: Below Par

I golfed for about two decades, and all of that time spent in frustration yielded perhaps a total of two anecdotes. That’s my only low score in relation to that fiendish and addicting game.

(I am no one’s father, but the “dad jokes” are growing stronger as I age. Perhaps they are better thought of as “Jokes When You’re Fifty.”)

Golf is a frustration because it is perhaps the one human endeavor which a person whose expertise consists of watching quite successful professional golfers ply their trade on television plunk a ball on a tee, swing a club, hit the ball any distance, and grow angry when the results are not the same as what he or she has seen on television. And I shared in that frustration.

I do not watch tennis and think I can play like tennis players do. I know that if and when I ever perform at a karaoke night (this happened most recently about twenty-five years ago) that I will sound like what I am: a person who does not sing in a way that makes any one want to hear me sing again. But golf? Anyone can swing a golf club, and I’m anyone, aren’t I?
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Today in History: Nov. 17

The “Heidi Game” was played on this date in 1968.

A late afternoon football game, New York Jets at Oakland Raiders, was on NBC. That network had been advertising the television debut of a new TV movie, Heidi, based on the children’s story, all week. It was an expensive movie, with one sponsor, Timex, footing the entire bill. A football game with interested viewers on both coasts was a great venue for advertising the movie.

The announcements about the movie continued all game long. But so did the game. At 7:00 p.m. EST, with the Jets in the lead 32-29 and very little time left on the clock, NBC started the broadcast of the movie, as advertised. The game was as good as over, as far as NBC executives were concerned.
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Fly the W

When I moved to the Midwest in the summer of 2000, I learned that Phil Rizzuto was not the baseball announcer who had coined the phrase, “Holy cow!” I also learned that there was a controversy about this, and that, as a fan of the New York Yankees and a native New Yorker—and worse, someone unaware of any controversy—I was on the wrong side of said dispute. Born wrong.

No, I was informed, the recently departed Harry Caray was the first to use the phrase on-air and was the announcer with whom “Holy Cow!” should always be associated. Not the beloved Yankees announcer.
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Gordie Howe, 1928–2016

He remains the only professional hockey player to play in six different decades: full-time from 1945-1980, when he retired at age 52—wait, pause there. 52.

And then he skated one shift for a professional minor league team in 1997, when he was almost 70. Six decades. Gordie Howe died today at the age of 88.
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Dylan, Ali, an Apple

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee—his hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see.”—Muhammad Ali, of course

Today is our first day without Muhammad Ali. If the world seems to be off its axis today, I would point to that sad fact.

The photo at top is from the great photographer Ken Regan, who took it backstage at Madison Square Garden on December 8, 1975. Bob Dylan had brought his Rolling Thunder Revue to New York City and Ali joined the parade of well-wishers.

Regan wrote, “Ali had brought Bob a giant boxing glove that was about as big as Bob; just the right, spontaneous, quirky touch that captured the spirit of the Rolling Thunder Revue.” You can see the pair of gloves and a silk robe on the bench between them. Ali is finishing off an apple and Dylan appears almost kid-like in glee. Even Bob Dylan seemed to regard Muhammad Ali as “really famous.”
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A Letter from Jackie Robinson

[This is one of my favorite posts from 2015. A sports story that is not about sports.]

On June 12, 1970, Dock Ellis, a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates who would go on to some success and much controversy, threw a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres. No-hitters are headline news but not usually career- or even season-defining.

If you are a baseball fan, you may know why Dock Ellis’ no-hitter is remembered, 45 years later. If you are not, please keep reading, as this is not a post that is only about baseball.
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