I did not exist in 1974 when Hank Aaron accomplished an athletic feat that brought cheers and smiles to the faces of so many Americans, who may or may not have been so willing or eager to celebrate together in such a manner just ten years prior.
If you were alive then and old enough to form memories, do you remember watching this moment on TV live or in replayed clips on the news? Did you hear the game on the radio?
Vin Scully was the announcer for the Los Angeles Dodgers for nearly seven decades. Along with just over 50,000 spectators, he was there in Atlanta to witness and to narrate Hank Aaron hitting his 715th home run. Here’s a transcript of his words (bolded for emphasis):
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. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol, and it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron, who was met at home plate, not only by every member of the Braves, but by his father and mother. He threw his arms around his father, and as he left the home plate area, his mother came running across the grass, threw her arms around his neck, kissed him for all she was worth.
As Aaron circled the bases, the Dodgers on the in-field shook his hand, and that was a memorable moment. Aaron is being mobbed by photographers, he’s holding his right hand high in the air, and for the first time in a long time, that poker face of Aaron’s shows a tremendous strain and relief of what it must have been like to live with for the past several months. It is over. At ten minutes after nine in Atlanta, GA, Henry Aaron has eclipsed the mark set by Babe Ruth. You could not, I guess, get two more opposite men: the Babe, big and garrulous, and oh, so sociable, and oh, so immense in all of his appetites; and then the quiet lad out of Mobile, AL, slender and stayed slender throughout his career. Ruth, as he put on the poundage and the paunch, the Yankees put their ball players in pin-striped uniforms because it made Ruth look slimmer, but they didn’t need pin-striped uniforms for Henry Aaron and the twilight of history here. He looks almost the same here as he did when he first came up twenty years ago.
And so it was a memorable moment before the game, and now what a sweet moment it is here in the middle of the game. So Henry and the Babe, the two greatest home run-hitters that have ever lived, and it’s a marvelous, wonderful, enjoyable moment here in Atlanta. We’re so happy too that it could be seen all over the United States, that it will be duly reported all around the world, and I’m sure films of it will be seen all around the world. And you can hear “Georgia” all around the world. Henry is now at the microphone. Henry gets it all out by saying “I thank God that it’s all over with.” And I’m sure he has thanked God many times that he had to do it to get it all over with as he becomes the greatest home run-hitter in the history of baseball.
Hank Aaron has died but the memories and documentation of his achievements will not fade away any time soon.
Social-cultural context of spring 1974:
~ The American participation in the Vietnam War ended a year earlier; Richard Nixon was president (with only a handful of months left in his term due to Watergate).
~ A week before this momentous occasion, the 46th Academy Awards were held and The Exorcist, Tatum O’Neal, Francois Truffaut, among others, won for their categories. Groucho Marx also received an Honorary Oscar®.
~ The Miami Dolphins beat the Minnesota Vikings at the start of that year to win Super Bowl VIII.
~ The most popular songs in the country in the days leading up to the game were “Hooked on a Feeling,” “Bennie and the Jets,” “Sunshine on my Shoulders,” “Seasons in the Sun,” and “The Lord’s Prayer.”
Read more about that history-making home run at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Pic cred: Youtube screenshot