It was Monday, April 8, 1974, and I decided to play hooky from school. No, I wasn’t a student; I was teaching a night course. The Atlanta Braves were playing a home game against the L.A. Dodgers. Henry Aaron had already hit his 714th home run to tie Babe Ruth’s record. I remember thinking that was the night Hammerin’ Hank was going to reach a goal many had once thought unachievable. Sure enough, that evening, on his second time at bat, he rifled one over the left-field fence for number 715. Aaron circled the bases and this was the announcer’s call:
“A black man is getting a standing ovation in the deep South for breaking a record by an all-time baseball idol. What a marvelous moment it is for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the world.” Then Vince Scully went silent, letting his viewers absorb the moment.
Vince Scully, arguably the greatest baseball announcer of all time, had made the call for arguably the greatest hitter of all time. Hank Aaron was a poor boy from Mobile, Alabama, who played in the Negro League for the Indianapolis Clowns at a starting salary of $200 a month. “I think there was more talent in that league than in the majors,” said Aaron.
Aaron ultimately hit 758 four-baggers, a record that would hold for 32 years until it was finally eclipsed by Barry Bonds, whose record is still tainted by his admission of drug use. “It’s kind of hard for me to digest that Barry cheated,” said Aaron at the time, but I don’t think he should be banned from Cooperstown.” When Bonds heard of Aaron’s death, he said, “Thanks for all you have taught us…for being a trailblazer through adversity and setting an example for all of us African-American ball players who came after you.”
What was it like to pitch to Henry Aaron? Only a few people alive today can answer that question. I called Carl Erskine, the retired Anderson banker who pitched for the Dodgers from 1945 to 1958, and who toward the end of his career faced Aaron multiple times.
Quite aware of his own pitching stats, Erskine anticipated my first question. “He hit five home runs off of me,” he said, “but that’s okay, because he hit 17 off of Don Drysdale (a Dodger Hall of Famer). “His home runs were bullets—screaming line drives.”
Erskine, who took the mound to challenge the likes of Willie Mays and Stan Musial, was most impressed with how easy Aaron made it look. His pitching teammate, Preacher Roe, once told Erskine, “He hits like he’s taking a shower.” Unlike most hitters, Aaron had no weaknesses. He could hit the ball anywhere near the plate. “Attack the ball before it attacks you,” Aaron asserted.
Hank Aaron battled the same brutal racism other Black players experienced and the intensity of the hate grew as he approached the Babe’s record. Carl knew exactly how Aaron felt, for Carl had befriended Jackie Robinson, Major League Baseball’s first African-American player.
In one of his final interviews, Aaron was asked if he had any regrets. The answer from one of the humblest men in the history of the sport was: “Yes—all the men I left on base.”

Dick Wolfsie appears weekdays on television sharing his humor, stories and video essays. His column appears weekly in The Paper of Montgomery County. E-mail Dick at Wolfsie@ aol.com.