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If you like Hank Aaron's story, you might also like:
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Yogi Berra,
Julius Erving,
Frank M. Johnson,
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Hank Aaron
Hank Aaron
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Hank Aaron Interview (page: 2 / 9)

Home Run King

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  Hank Aaron

April 8, 1974 -- Hank Aaron Night -- was the home opener of 1974. It was the biggest crowd in Braves history, with nearly 54,000 fans in the stadium. The Braves were playing the L.A. Dodgers. Al Downing was pitching for Los Angeles. What happened next? Did he throw you a slider?

Hank Aaron: I never had great luck against Al Downing. Al Downing was always very tough on me for some reason. Really. I remember him when he was with the Yankees, threw very hard, very, very hard, and had very good stuff. Then they traded him. He hurt his arm somewhere, I don't know what, but he went on to the Dodgers and I still never had very good luck with him. He was pitching against us that night, and he had thrown me two -- well, he walked me the first time up. The second time up, he had me at two balls, I think. Two balls and no strikes. Then he threw me a -- it wasn't a slider -- he threw something like a little screwball or something. He was trying to keep the ball away from me, and what had happened was that I had creeped up on the plate just a little bit, and the screwball that he threw me, that pitch hung on the outside part of the plate, but it hung right down the middle, and I was able to get my bat on it, and that was it!

Hank Aaron Interview Photo
Hank Aaron Interview Photo

But how did you feel when you hit it?

Hank Aaron Interview Photo
Hank Aaron: I felt great. I felt wonderful. And here's where Mr. Calvin Wardlaw comes into play. When I ran around the bases, these two kids come out. They were doing nothing but having fun, and he said, "Hank, I almost pulled..." If you noticed, he used to always have a binocular case, and inside the case was a snub nose .45. That's what he had in there.

Was he FBI?

Hank Aaron: He was police. Manny Jackson loaned him to the Braves, and the Braves paid for him to go to spring training with me. But no, he wasn't the FBI, he was a policeman. He was a detective.

So after you hit the ball, these two kids ran out and followed you around the field. It was exciting to watch. What was it like for you?

Hank Aaron: They were having fun, the kids were. They were nothing but kids, and one turned out to be a doctor. In fact, maybe three or four years ago, they brought them back to the ballpark and we met up in my office.

It was one of the greatest moments of my life. I finally hit the home run, got at the bases, And when I got home that night I got on my knees and prayed to the Good Lord, really thanked him for all of the things that he had sent me through. Because really, the two years -- I had really had a bad time for two years leading up to the home run. I had had some things that had been said, done. Every day was something different. I think a lot of it came from the press, really. I hate to say it, but a lot of it came from them. They decided that they were going to say things, and jump on me about certain things, and a lot of it was untrue. "Oh, he's trying to break the records because of this and that..." You know?

Do you think they just wanted to discredit you?

Hank Aaron: I don't know what it was really. For two years I had a rough time. I really had a rough, rough time.

Did this change everything when you hit that ball and ran those bases?

Hank Aaron: It changed me that I wanted to try to get out of the game. Really, for the first time I had felt like, as Dr. King said, "I've been to the mountaintop." I've gotten as far as I'm going to go. I felt like there was nothing else for me to accomplish. I had hit the home run, broke the record, and that was it. I didn't know anything else to do. I didn't know anything else to do, and lo and behold, I got this call at the end of the year from my good friend, Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig. He wanted me to end my career in Milwaukee, which I had no intentions of doing. I had some very good friends of mine that flew here. We had dinner, and we talked about me spending two years more in Milwaukee. I really didn't want to. I told them at the dinner table, in presence of my wife, I said, "Now listen, I want all you guys to know that I'm not the same ball player I was when I left Milwaukee. I can't steal a base, I don't play the outfield, I can't do certain things. I don't run as fast. I might think I'm running fast, but I'm not. I'm not doing things as fast as I used to. So you have to understand it." "Well no, we just want you to come back and finish your career." And I said, "Okay." Because I was really thinking about -- seriously, I probably would have -- I was thinking about retiring.

Are you glad you didn't?

Hank Aaron: I'm glad. I went back to Milwaukee and had two more years. I was a long ways from having the kind of year that I was used to having, but I spent the last two years in Milwaukee and the fans appreciated it, and that was the end of it.

I'm sure you were good for business. I'm sure they pulled in a lot of people just to see you.

(See Hank Aaron hit his history-making 715th career home run.)

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This page last revised on Oct 02, 2015 17:14 EDT
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