Homerin' Hank

    As a kid i couldn't understand why Hank Aaron got all these death threats and such pursuing the Babe, while everyone I knew was thrilled. I suppose or hope they had to realize there were tons of scrawny white kids proudly looking at their Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, Joe Morgan, Lou Brock baseball cards as they followed the season each year. My Dad had known the guy who brought up the first black player, who'd invented the farm system, somehow a bit of family historical pride, as if we somehow had something to do with it, just like my grandfather living near Tampa and the winter leagues had anything to do with us except, well, baseball's full of long and irrelevant but cherished stats and being part of the extended team, fans, teams, community, and half the Braves roster - America's Team down South with Ted Turner's far reaching coverage and Atlanta's booming mixed cityscape - were black. But most of all they were good or not good, or occasionally amazing, little to do (that i remember) with the Civil Rights conflicts raging, largely left behind on field or in the bleachers. I remember one pitcher trying not to give Joe Morgan anything to hit so fired the ball 2 feet above his head. Morgan reached up and swatted it for a double. In an All Star game, Roberto Clemente was caught off guard by a fly ball over his head. Instead of (futilely - sp?)  trying to catch it, he waited for it to bounce off the wall, barehanded it, and without looking spun and fired the whole distance to home plate, catching the unsuspecting runner out. And then there was Hank - rather than the fat but impressive Babe of my father's generation, Hank was streamlined though not too for the space age (the original one, where astronauts were cowboys and drinkers, not straight A scientists), an all-around player who happened to excel at homers, not one of the weight lifters who'd come later. It was still the generation after the farm clubs opened up, and it was still more art and joy and scrappiness than science and Money all - baseball was still the fun sport, the Boys of Summer. And whatever the stress of that magical year when Hank drove for the record, he always seemed playing for the joy of it, not the stressed out competitiveness of the later sports era. Good times. Except sadly they tried to screw him on pay afterwards, so he went off to Milwaukee for a few years. But he finally came home - this time all the way to home plate. One year my Dad told me my Christmas present came in "roughly 100 pieces". Turns out those pieces were 2 years of the weekly Sporting News (no, i didn't guess the riddle), so I was ready for Hank's streak, and all his teammates and opposing pitchers. Rather than the focus of a Watergate, one summer we got to follow the daily stream of baseball. Much thanks for a magical time, my own "asterisk" for my childhood as Hank moves on to a different league.


    Latest Comments