Friday, April 8, 2011

The night Hank yanked No. 715

In 20 major league seasons Hank Aaron had never hit a home run on Opening Day. So when Commissioner Bowie Kuhn ordered the Atlanta Braves to play Aaron in Cincinnati’s opener on April 4, 1974, a frigid day at Riverfront Stadium, there was no real fear that Babe Ruth’s cherished record would fall.

But on his first swing, a 3-1 pitch, Aaron launched the ball over the fence to tie Ruth at 714 homers. Would the mighty record fall in Cincinnati instead of Atlanta, which was determined to play host to history? Braves manager Eddie Mathews, Aaron’s longtime teammate and friend, did his part by sitting the slugger in Game 2 before Kuhn once again used his clout, forcing Aaron back into the lineup for the third and final game in Cincy. Aaron obligingly went 0-for-3 and the Braves headed home, setting the stage for the grandest moment in Fulton County Stadium history.

On this day in 1974 Aaron launched a 1-0 offering from Dodgers pitcher Al Downing –who had been booed for walking Aaron on five pitches in their first go-around – over the left field wall, setting off a mad celebration that forever dwells in our memory banks. No. 715. Baseball’s untouchable record had been eclipsed by a player that Yankee great Mickey Mantle called the greatest of his generation. Click here to relive the magical moment:

Ruth's record wasn’t an easy mountain to scale for a black man from Mobile, Alabama, as songwriter Peter Cooper recounts in “715 (for Hank Aaron)” from his Red Beet Records release Mission Door. We mentioned this back in February on the occasion of Hammerin' Hank’s birthday, and damned if we still can’t find a video or audio clip of that song.

We hope you’ll accept the substitute above. It’s an enjoyable exchange between Red Beet stablemates Cooper and Eric Brace, who wrap it up by performing Cooper’s “Andalusia,” which at least gets us into Alabama where Aaron grew up and learned to swing a bat, and where Cooper mined two great songs.

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