Looking Back at Hammerin’ Hank and MLK

39 years ago today history was made. Photo Courtesy: Conspiracy of Happiness
39 years ago today history was made. Photo Courtesy: Conspiracy of Happiness

By Will Martin

Cold weather the story of the day in most parts of the east coast. I saw where it was only 39 degrees yesterday in Chicago for a White Sox day game.

Cold weather one can usually handle. When you add wind, that is another matter entirely. Especially in the windy city.

Countless times I’d walk along Michigan Avenue, go around a building and have the wind hit me in the face all four times.

Today I awoke with two memories that hit me squarely in the face. 45 years ago today was the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

King was 39 years young and next to Jackie Robinson a man of indomitable will to effect change on the civil front. Some might say that loss still reverberates today.

39 years ago today in the very first inning it finally happened. On a 1-0 pitch Henry Louis (Hammering Hank) Aaron connected on a fastball from Cincinnati Reds Jack Billingham-distant relative to Christy Mathewson-to tie Babe Ruth for the title of the all-time Home Run King.

Bowie Kuhn was not in attendance. I remember Johnny Bench shaking Hank’s hand as he touched home plate. Gerald Ford was in attendance at Riverfront Stadium four months away from becoming president. Monte Irvin paid tribute. What’s forgotten is how the Reds won the game 7-6 when Pete Rose scored from second base on a wild pitch.

The fans of Cincinnati were warm and receptive to Hank. Atlanta was more apathetic toward the chase. It was reported that in 1973 Hank Aaron received more than 930,000 pieces of mail. Most of it positive and well-wishing and yes some of it was your typical red-neck illiterate racist fare. Aaron reportedly had saved all of these haters as a reminder. Henry also critical of the lack of interest in the Georgia area.

Vacationing in Cape May, NJ on July 21st 1973 (one week after attending my first Yankee game at the original Yankee Stadium) I saw Hank Aaron connect for #700 off Phillies Ken Brett. Every home run hit after that cut into local news. #713 happened in Houston off Jerry Reuss. I remember it like yesterday!

Just been made aware that a movie on the life of Jackie Robinson hits the theaters on April 12th. Here’s hoping this becomes a #1 flick by the movie-goers. There’s a story that needs to be shared and told over and over again. There’s a good reason every player in the majors wears #42 on April 15th.

It was on Monday night April 8th 1974 that Henry Aaron passed Babe Ruth in the 4th inning off the arm of Al Downing. Want a crazy stat? Al Downing was in the Yankee bullpen when Roger Maris hit #61 10-1-61 off Boston’s Tracy Stallard! Al Downing-your ONLY active ballplayer when Aaron hit #715 and Maris hitting #61! How about that!

Despite that historic day 39 years ago in Ohio it was a day that almost was postponed due to horrific weather (Super Cell Wednesday) that struck the midwest and southeast. Xenia, Ohio incredibly hard hit.

I remember the look of┬ásadness in my Mom’s eyes when she looked at me and said in Spanish, ‘El Rey lo han assassinado.’ They killed Mr. King. Four years old and you understand sadness within a mother’s eyes.

As you go about your day to day routine be sure to take a moment and reflect on two men who did much for creating and changing the face, the mindset, and the hopes of a nation for minorities with a dream.