I was seven years old and my grandfather, who had not yet been diagnosed with leukemia and did not know he had only two years to live, was seventy-two when Hank Aaron stepped up to the plate to break Babe Ruth’s home run record.
For more than a year Granddad and I had been tracking Aaron’s climb up this Mount Everest of baseball statistics. No other player, not even the legends, had come close to hitting 714 home runs: Willie Mays ended his career with 660, while Mickey Mantle had finished with 536.
Ruth had retired from baseball in 1935 and died in 1948 but decades later remained an unassailable icon, flush with nicknames that lived vividly in the American imagination: the Babe, the Bambino, the Sultan of Swat. He is credited with no less than canonizing the home run, anchoring the preternatural status of the New York Yankees franchise, and cursing the rival Boston Red Sox to a century of futility. He still ranks on most lists as the greatest player who ever played the game.
But by April 1974, Aaron, who had grown up in Mobile, Ala., played in the Negro Leagues, and moved into the majors as the Civil Rights Movement began, sat poised to knock the Sultan of Swat down into second place. … Read More
(via The Bitter Southerner)