Tuesday, January 03, 2012
A baseball card mystery: Aaron’s golden momentPosted by Bruce Markusen
On April 8, 1974, millions of fans watched one of the most historically significant moments in the history of the game.
I was privileged to be one of those fans who witnessed the hallmark accomplishment on a special Monday night broadcast delivered by NBC TV.
In the fourth inning, Hank Aaron came to bat against Dodgers left-hander Al Downing. “The Hammer” needed one home run to break Babe Ruth’s career record of 714 home runs, a mark that some observers had once considered unbreakable.
With the Braves trailing 3-1, two men out and a runner on first, Aaron patiently watched Downing’s first pitch, a change-up in the dirt. Now behind in the count, Downing threw Aaron a slider. The pitch was low, but down the middle.
It might have been a strike if Aaron let it go. Aaron did not. Using his classic top-hand swing, Aaron lifted the pitch deep toward left-center field. The ball had only moderate height, typical of Aaron, who usually hit line drives instead of towering fly balls.
As the ball carried, outfielders Bill Buckner and Jimmy Wynn raced toward the warning track, converging just a few feet from the outfield wall. Placing his arms on top of the wall, Buckner tried to prop himself above the boundary of the fence, but his valiant attempt fall well short.
Both “Billy Buck” and “The Toy Cannon” watched the ball land in the glove of reliever Tom House, who would eventually deliver the ball to Aaron.
Two exuberant fans, who might be best described as “hippies” (according to the parlance of the day), accompanied Aaron on his tour around the bases. Thankfully, they carried neither weapons nor ill intentions. (They would, however, have to spend the night in an Atlanta jail before eventually becoming friends with the new home run king.) By the time Aaron reached home plate, his entourage of followers and well-wishers numbered nearly a dozen.
The umpires temporarily halted the game in Atlanta, allowing for an on-field ceremony that lasted 11 minutes.
During the proceedings, Aaron spoke to the crowd in Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium. “I’m happy it’s over,” Aaron said of his grueling chase of Ruth’s record, which was marred by hate mail and repeated death threats.
“Now I can consider myself one of the best. Maybe not the best because a lot of great ones have played this game—DiMaggio, Mays, Jackie Robinson—but I think I can fit in there somewhere.”
In the moments after hitting the home run, a photographer snapped the picture that appeared as part of Topps’ 2001 “Golden Moments” series.
So here’s the mystery. Who are the other people in this photograph? I should know who they are, but I really don’t.
There are two players in front of Aaron, applying a bear hug. There is also an African-American player to the far right, and a white player on the far left. Who are these mysterious members of the Atlanta Braves?
Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books on baseball, including the award-winning A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, the recipient of the Seymour Medal from the Society for American Baseball Research. He has also written The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, Tales From The Mets Dugout, and The Orlando Cepeda Story.