Tim McCarver never had to look up from his catcher’s nest. He knew it was Hank Aaron, stepping in.

“He would get in the box and then he would clear his throat,” McCarver said. “Ahem. Every time.”

Aaron was calling the meeting to order. He already knew what pitch he wanted and was pretty sure when he would get it. On April 8, 1974, he told Dusty Baker he was tired of the Great Home Run Chase.

“Let’s get it over with,” he said, and then took the Dodgers’ Al Downing over the left field fence in Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium.

Babe Ruth’s 39-year-old record of 714 home runs disappeared into the glove of Braves reliever Tom House, who ran to home plate and delivered it to the man.

Aaron was the ultimate businessman in uniform, as efficient a hitter as has ever lived. He received MVP votes in 18 seasons and won the award in 1957. He is still the all-time RBI and total bases leader, and at various times over his 22 seasons, he led the league in runs, hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage, batting average, OPS and sacrifice flies. He also stole 31 bases in 1963.

“Getting a fastball past him is like trying to sneak the sun past a rooster,” pitcher Curt Simmons said.

Hammerin’ Hank did that when Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Stan Musial, Frank Robinson and Willie McCovey were contemporaries. Because he only made the World Series in 1957 and 1958, and because he played without hurry or fuss, Aaron was not a crossover star. He did extraordinary things in easy ways.

Nothing explained Aaron’s total command like the home runs. His season-high was only 47, which he did when he was 37. That moved him into striking distance of Ruth. The night of reckoning came only 27 years after Jackie Robinson came to the Dodgers and enabled a cross-handed-hitting kid from the Down The Bay neighborhood of Mobile, Alabama to join a pastime made national.

Aaron hit his 755th and final bomb in 1976, as a Brewer, off the Angels’ Dick Drago. In 2007 Barry Bonds passed Aaron, but he did so as an intentional campaign. Aaron’s homers were an organic byproduct.

“If you come out to see me on Monday,” he once said, “you’re going to see pretty much the same stuff I do on Tuesday and Wednesday.”

Sadly he was not permitted to enjoy his ride into the 6 o’clock news. Ruth’s record of 714 home runs was presumably inaccessible, just like Lou Gehrig’s 2,130 consecutive games played. Aaron kept grinding closer until America looked up.

It was not the surprise everyone wanted.

Long before voice mail, let alone the Internet, Aaron was abused like no other American athlete. The unofficial count was 900,000 notes, mostly handwritten and stuck into envelopes with a stamp affixed. These were commissioned acts of hate, not just offhand Tweets.

The deepest frontiers of racial slurring were breached. Death threats followed. No. 715 did not stop them.

You can ask yourself why Cal Ripken Jr. was not harassed in that manner when he passed Gehrig.

Aaron was also mistreated by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who missed the Babe-buster because he had a previous commitment to meet with the Cleveland Indians’ Wahoo Club.

Aaron never let America off the hook. Much of Lonnie Wheeler’s biography, “I Had A Hammer,” was devoted to his hard-bitten memories.

He was asked why he didn’t join more civil rights marches. “The only effective movements are nonviolent,” he said, “and I can’t guarantee that. I don’t feel nonviolent about it.”

And Aaron never ran the Braves’ franchise as he yearned to, although Bill Lucas, his brother-in-law, did become general manager.

The night of 715 crackled like an Ali-Frazier fight. Pearl Bailey sang the National Anthem. Sammy Davis Jr. hung out at the batting cage. Marching bands did their thing.

None had any assurance that the pursuit would end that night.

Aaron made the trot, accompanied by two white kids who came out of the stands with no bad intentions, and then his mother hugged him at the plate.

“I’m glad it’s over,” Aaron said.

It was rare at the time to televise a weeknight baseball game nationally. “What a marvelous moment for baseball,” Vin Scully called out. “What a marvelous moment for America and the world. A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking the record of an all-time baseball idol.”

Aaron, 86, passed away Friday, the 10th Hall of Famer to leave us in the past 10 months. The celestial lineup needed a cleanup man. Now it can come to order.



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