When Hank Aaron was approaching the home run record held by Babe Ruth of 714 in 1973, he received letters about it. A lot of letters. About 900,000 of them. Many were racist, and some death threats were involved.
Aaron hit home run 713 on the second-to-last day of the 1973 season, spending that whole winter talking about passing the Babe, and getting more letters.
After some quotes he recently gave to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, racially charged hate mail started to arrive at the Atlanta Braves offices.
One letter obtained by the Braves said, “Hank Aaron is a scumbag piece of (expletive) (racial slur)… My old man instilled in my mind from a young age, the only good (racial slur) is a dead (racial slur).”
The latest letters were in response to remarks Aaron gave to Nightengale about why the kept the hate mail from the 1970s.
“To remind myself that we are not that far removed from when I was chasing the record. If you think that, you are fooling yourself. A lot of things have happened in this country, but we have so far to go. There’s not a whole lot that has changed.
“We can talk about baseball. Talk about politics. Sure, this country has a black president. But when you look at a black president, President Obama is left with his foot stuck in the mud from all of the Republicans with the way he’s treated. We have moved in the right direction, and there have been improvements, but we still have a long ways to go in the country.
“The bigger difference is that back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.”
In his autobiography “I Had A Hammer,” Aaron writes about playing in the minor-leagues in the Jim Crow south. He often was not allowed to stay with the rest of his team in hotels, having to stay in one that allowed blacks, or finding a family to stay with.
The threats beginning in 1973 were taken so seriously the Braves hired Atlanta police detective Calvin Wardlaw as his bodyguard. He received police protection on road trips and the FBI also got involved.
When he finally hit number 715 on April 8, 1974 off Dodgers pitcher Al Downing, he was greeted at home plate by his mother, Estella.
Tom House, the Braves pitcher who caught the ball in the bullpen, remembers: “They both had tears in their eyes. She kept hugging him and hugging him. I heard later that she wouldn’t let go because she was afraid he was going to get shot. Some of the death threats had said he’d be shot at the plate.”
“I just thank God it is over” Aaron said after the game.
He retired after the 1976 season with a total of 755 home runs.
[Image via ipcexpressnews.com]