The passing of the great Hank Aaron last Friday, Jan. 22, at age 86, emphasized the death threats the future Hall of Famer received as he neared breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record on April 8, 1974.
Death threats? Contemptible. But there’s a better perspective on Aaron’s 715th home run that broke Babe’s mark at a Braves’ home game in Atlanta.
“A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol,” Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodgers’ announcer, declared that night.
“What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the State of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world.”
And it was, and it is.
Even better, today, 46 years later, two generations have grown up since 1974, and there’s nothing exceptional today about a black athlete breaking a record – it’s more than routine.
Today, Hank Aaron can be appreciated simply as a great ballplayer and, overcoming adversity as he did, a great American. That’s called progress.
In Cooperstown, the baseball capital of Otsego County and the world, that is reinforced each year at the Parade of Legends on the Saturday of Induction Weekend, when 5,000 fans line the route between the fire hall and Hall of Fame.
Sure, there’s lots of cheering for every Legend who parades down Main Street in order of seniority.
Say you’re standing by the Cooperstown Diner in recent years, early in the cavalcade, and a roar breaks out to beat all roars.
And there he comes, around the corner by Mel’s, on the back of a Kevin’s Ford pickup truck, with elegant wife Billye seated beside him: The great Hank Aaron, welcomed by the greatest cheer, the First Hero among the Heroes of the Game.
Every year, who isn’t saying, what a marvelous moment for Cooperstown? What a marvelous moment for the country and the world?
We’ll miss that roar this year. But the memory of that great American will live. That’s called progress.