Remembering Vin, part one: Aaron's 715th
Note: Soon after COVID-19 shut down sports, looking for good stories to write for The Norman Transcript, I came up with a series called “Sports You Can Watch Right Now.” Two of the subjects I chose were immortalized by the same voice, belonging to Vin Scully, Dodgers play-by-play man from 1950 to 2016, Brooklyn to Los Angeles. He called World Series, All-Star Games, the NFL and golf, too, yet never gave up the job he took alongside the immortal Red Barber more than 72 years ago. Vin died on Tuesday. He was 94. This is the first of those two stories, re-edited and remastered, Vin playing a big role, originally written March 19, 2020, about Hank Aaron’s 715th home run.
Their names were and are Britt Gaston and Cliff Courtenay and they were just 17 years old the night they attended a ballgame on April 8, 1974.
Were they to try what they did that night today, they’d be tackled violently, perhaps seriously hurt. Yet, because they weren’t, you need to watch it because it’s so easy to watch it, watch what they do between second and third as Hank Aaron rounds the bases.
They pat him on the back.
They darted out of the crowd and reached him a moment after Aaron shook hands, mid-home-run trot, with Dodger second baseman Davey Lopes and shortstop Bill Russell, and they patted him on the back.
They were in Atlanta.
It was 1974.
He was chasing Babe Ruth, who many did not want him to catch.
He received death threats.
When the Milwaukee Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, they supplanted the minor league team that played there for 65 years. That team was called the Atlanta Crackers.
They patted him on the back.
I’m writing it and I’m blown away still. I cannot think of a better and more right American moment than Hank Aaron’s 715th home run.
You can watch it.
Right now, you can watch it.
Just search for it.
It’s right there on YouTube, many many different ways
Should you, you’ll notice a few things. One, the Dodger left-fielder who chased the ball to the fence was Bill Buckner, 12 years before he’d become far more famous for letting a ball through his legs as a New York Met first baseman.
Two, if you watch my favorite clip of it, the one that runs 4:38, complete with the call of Los Angeles’ play-by-play guy, you’ll note the historic and omnipresent Los Angeles infield — Garvey, Lopes, Russell, Cey — was already in place and, though Steve Yeager happened to be the primary Dodger catcher, Joe Ferguson was behind the plate that historic night.
Three, not making it up, when Aaron crosses the plate, one media member’s already there to welcome him among his Braves teammates. It’s the late great Craig Sager, then a 23-year-old radio guy in Atlanta.
We grew up with one particular call of the moment.
Be it on “This Week in Baseball,” Saturday’s “Game of the Week” or any time an historic baseball montage was required, you’d see it and hear Braves play-by-play man Milo Hamilton.
“He’s sittin’ on 714 … Here’s the pitch by Downing. Swinging. There’s a drive into left-center field, that ball is gonna be OUTTA HERE. It’s gone, it’s 715, there’s a new home run champion of all time and it’s Henry Aaron. The fireworks are going. Henry Aaron is coming around third, his teammates are at the plate and listen to this crowd.”
The best thing about Hamilton’s call is the sheer excitement and the fact he set it up — “He’s sittin’ on 714” — one beat before the pitch.
But it’s not the best call.
That call belongs to Vin Scully, describing the game for Dodger fans back in Southern California, who were probably stuck in traffic, driving home from work in the Pacific time zone.
“One ball and no strikes, Aaron waiting, the outfield deep and straightaway. Fastball. There’s a high drive into deep left-center field, Buckner goes back to the fence. It is … gone.”
After announcing Al Downing’s pitch, Scully’s voice picks up. He’s not yelling, but there’s urgency.
Next, similar to the call he’d make more than 14 years later, when Kirk Gibson went deep to end Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, Scully went silent.
When he came back 29 seconds later, Aaron having rounded the bases, he offered the greatest call in American sports history, fully realizing the magnificence and relevance of what he’d just watched.
“What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country 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. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron, who was met at home plate not only by every member of the Braves, but by his father and mother.”
I can’t remember the first time I heard Scully’s call, sometime within the last 20 years, but it was already the best sports highlight of my life because of those two kids, Gaston and Courtenay, and the joy they felt for Aaron. The call only made it better.
He’s still alive you know.
Aaron, that is.
Someday, no time soon let's hope, he’ll no longer be with us. When that happens, flags should be lowered everywhere.
Such a player. And because of the home runs, entirely underrated, too.
He hit .305 lifetime, slugged .555 lifetime, collected 3,771 hits, drove in 2,297 runs, more than anybody in the history of the game and touched 6,856 bases, more than anybody in the history of the game.
Among those who played by the rules, his 755 home runs remains the most. And still, he had a public address ready to go on the San Francisco scoreboard the moment Barry Bonds dishonestly hit No. 756.
So much class.
So much grace.
His moment’s just waiting to be watched, again and again and again.
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