MURPHY: Regardless of what the records show, Hammerin' Hank is still King

4/12/2014

Regardless of what the records show, Hammerin' Hank is still King

Regardless of what the records show, Hammerin' Hank is still King

Mom must have known the significance of what she saw.

Of course it was the talk of the country, and I probably couldn't shut up about it.

It's probably long gone by now, but in a dictionary she kept by her while working on crossword puzzles my mom wrote down that Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run against Al Downing.

I looked at that little note over and over through the years as I was growing up. Every time I picked up the dictionary, I read it and remembered that night.

That was a time when there was Saturday afternoon baseball on television and a Monday night game.

They were the two best days of the week to me.

So to witness Aaron breaking a record that everyone knew about — baseball fan or not — was special, and I have never forgotten it.

The summer before school started in 1974, I was walking around some retail store and noticed Hank Aaron notebooks, folders, note pads — everything I thought I had to have for school.

Mom let me scoop up everything I could find, even though she probably knew I didn't need half of it.

I can still picture the notebooks with Aaron's picture on the front.

What I wouldn't give to have one of those now.

I was reminded of all this on Tuesday, when Major League Baseball stopped to honor Hammerin' Hank on the 40th anniversary of his historic 715th home run.

He hit the shot against the Los Angeles Dodgers, passing Babe Ruth to become the all-time home run hitter.

Aaron went on to hit 755 in his career.

Since then, Barry Bonds, puffed up on steroids, passed Aaron.

The record books show Bonds hit 762 home runs in his career.

But the record books don't reflect what baseball fans know in their heads and in their hearts.

Aaron, to his credit, has been humble and accepting of what the numbers show.

When I heard him speak in a ceremony prior to the Atlanta Braves game, I was amazed that this man could be so kind and understanding.

He grew up and played baseball in the south, and even though Jackie Robinson had broken baseball's color barrier when Aaron was coming up, blacks were still far from accepted as humans let alone as ball players.

Then when he made his march toward Ruth's record, the death threats came.

Aaron was on the threshold of breaking the record in 1973, but didn't get the record until the next season.

That meant waiting to break the record, and being asked about breaking the record and enduring an off season of hate letters telling him why he didn't deserve to break the record.

Through it all, Aaron went about his business, never returning the hate hurled at him.

He never fought back, never complained, never did anything to harm anyone.

That is why the record books can list Aaron as No. 2 home run hitter, but he's No. 1 to me.

Patrick Murphy, of Humphrey, Neb., is a former assistant managing editor of The Telegram.

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