Forty-seven years ago Thursday night back in 1974, I remembered the night very well.
Hank Aaron hit his momentous 715th home run off Los Angeles’ Al Downing in Atlanta’s fabled Fulton County Stadium in the fourth -inning. The Dodgers in the field shook his hand as he rounded the bases.
It truly was one of the game’s moving moments that will stay with your forever. It was history before the nation’s eyes. Here was a modern-day hero breaking baseball’s most respected record.
Longtime Dodgers’ announcer Vin Scully stated “Here is a black man in the deep South getting a standing ovation for breaking the record of an all-time baseball idol.”
Aaron passed away in January at the age of 86, and his memory would have been honored in baseball’s All-Star Game in Atlanta this July.
It would have and should have. You couldn’t have asked for better timing.
That was until baseball commissioner Rob Manfred allowed politics in the picture, pulling a quick hook from Atlanta and moving it to Colorado.
Sports and politics don’t mix. They never do and should.
It started with football and then extended to basketball. Both sports have felt the backlash, notably in the wallets.
I’m not writing this to take a political stance. Since I was 14 when Aaron had his historic hit, I have always respected both sides in their own worlds. It was only within the past few years that I have begun to deeply study and truly understand politics.
Baseball could have addressed this issue if they felt compelled to do it via Aaron’s memory. In Atlanta, there wasn’t a better figure to depict inequalities.
Aaron, among other African-American players even through the 70’s, understood and felt the impact of racism in their lives.
The longtime Milwaukee and Atlanta Brave as well as Milwaukee Brewer had the actualities and threats of racism throughout most of his daily life as a major leaguer, notably leading up to the point when he broke Babe Ruth’s legendary mark.
In a New York Times article upon his death, Aaron was quoted, “It really made me see for the
first time a clear picture of what this country is about,” he said. “My kids had to live like they
were in prison because of kidnap threats, and I had to live like a pig in a slaughter camp. I had to
duck. I had to go out the back door of the ballparks.
“I had to have a police escort with me all the time. I was getting threatening letters every single day. All of these things have put a bad taste in my mouth, and it won’t go away. They carved a piece of my heart away.”
If baseball felt compelled to send a message about racism or inequalities, here was the perfect opportunity to honor one of the game’s greatest in his hometown.
They could have done it in a subtle or direct manner and kept the respect from a likely large portion of their audience.
Instead, they committed a glaring error taking one of their premier events out of a city that recently lost one of the game’s most riveting figures.