May 23, 2013
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Tuesday, January 03, 2012
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?
Last week former New York Giants outfielder Don Mueller died at age 84.
His playing days predate a large majority of our readership at THT, but he had a nice career for himself, almost entirely with the New York Giants. The right fielder was a career .296 hitter, albeit without tremendous power or many walks.
In fact, he was the consummate contact hitter. He was so good at poking balls through holes he earned the nickname “Mandrake the Magician.” In 4,594 career plate appearances, he had only 167 walks and 146 strikeouts. That’s 313 walks plus strikeouts in a full 12-year career. Adam Dunn had 306 walks and strikeouts in the 2006 season alone.
Others can eulogize the man better than I can. Here, I’ll just review his career highlights. The list below contains his personal bests (or worst) performances, the greatest and most important games he took part in, and some of the oddities he was on hand for, as well as great moments by others. I've done this before for other recently departed baseball players.
So here it goes:
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Fifty years ago, a big moment in the history of sports stadiums occurred. On Jan. 3, 1962, the groundbreaking occurred for the Astrodome in Houston. It famously would become the first domed stadium in baseball.
Nicknamed the eighth wonder of the world, the stadium would be the first to play baseball indoors and protect the players from the elements. Plans for an indoor stadium had been around for years. The Dodgers wanted one for themselves in Brooklyn before opting to leave for Los Angeles instead. Houston decided to build one due to the extreme summer weather of the region. Protecting fans from the dog days of a Texas summer would make fans more willing to check out the team.
Sure, other sports had indoor stadiums. All hockey and basketball games are played indoors, but they weren’t the size and scope of Astrodome. It seated over 42,000 when it finally opened. Its dome was over 200 feet over the field and over 700 feet long. It was also capable of being home to a football team, making it one of the first stadiums intended to host multiple sports.
Nowadays, multipurpose stadiums have a bad reputation. Their popular image is of a sterile place lacking in distinctive character, purely functional without any charm. It should be noted that when the multipurpose wave began, they generally were quite well regarded. They had far better amenities than the previous stadiums (which often seemed like dumps in comparison). They were more advanced and seemed like the wave of the future.
Obviously, the Camden Yards generation of stadium pushed the multipurpose ones in the past. The Astrodome itself is generally in terrible shape. It no longer hosts any sports and is deteriorating. It has been cited for numerous code violations, and only maintenance workers and security guards have been allowed to enter the place since 2008. Simply put, a huge place like the Astrodome requires considerable effort to maintain, and there’s far less incentive to keep it in good shape now that it doesn’t host any teams.
The present (and future) for the Astrodome is bleak, but its past is memorable, and that past began 50 years ago today.
Aside from that, plenty of other events celebrate their anniversaries or “day-versaries” (which is an event occurring X-thousands days ago) today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you prefer to skim the lists:
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