Skip to main content

Don't erase Hank Aaron's spot in history

By Terence Moore
April 8, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Hank Aaron's record-breaking home run 40 years ago was an achievement worth celebrating, writes Terence Moore.
Hank Aaron's record-breaking home run 40 years ago was an achievement worth celebrating, writes Terence Moore.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's home run record 40 years ago
  • Terence Moore: Aaron's record is marked with a memorial in Turner Field parking lot
  • He says Aaron and others want to make sure the spot is kept even after Braves move
  • Moore: Aaron's record-breaking home run was more than just a baseball achievement

Editor's note: Terence Moore has been a sports columnist for more than three decades. He has worked for the Cincinnati Enquirer, the San Francisco Examiner, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and AOL Sports. Follow him on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- So there was Hank Aaron, leaning back in his chair during an exclusive CNN interview in the clubhouse of an Atlanta golf club, and the former slugger of the Atlanta Braves was fretting over the spot.

What's going to happen to the spot, he said, raising his eyebrows? It's the spot that was visited on April 8, 1974, by a baseball representing the 715th home run of his career.

Just like that, Babe Ruth's record was history.

Terence Moore
Terence Moore

So is the spot -- almost.

For now, the spot is preserved in a parking lot that once was Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium, where Aaron sealed his immortality with his high-arching blast over the fence in left-center field. The spot is surrounded by part of the old ballpark's outfield wall, and high above the spot is a large baseball-shaped placard with the inscription: Hank Aaron, home run, 715, April 8, 1974.

The whole scene is illuminated by lights. As a result, those traveling across the street to the Braves' current place of Turner Field can see the spot as they either walk through or drive by the parking lot at night.

"I'd hate for that mark to be destroyed," said Aaron, shaking his head while looking visibly distraught. "In fact, I've gone out there with several people and taken pictures at that spot."

That spot is among the places in the universe that should remain as unmolested as possible for eternity. Think Gettysburg. The Mount of Olives. Dealey Plaza. Tranquility Base.

What Aaron did 40 years ago Tuesday with a flick of his quick wrists was as much for society as it was for baseball. Just 27 years after Jackie Robinson broke the game's color barrier, Aaron was a black man from Mobile, Alabama, shattering the most sacred of records, not only for baseball, but for sports. The old mark belonged to a white man who was so beloved that he is credited with helping to save the game during the 1920s.

Hank Aaron -- and two young men -- rounded the bases after Aaron hit a record-breaking home run in 1974.
Hank Aaron -- and two young men -- rounded the bases after Aaron hit a record-breaking home run in 1974.

Chasing Ruth's ghost was challenging enough, but Aaron also had to battle a slew of hate mail and death threats. He succeeded, and for proof, there is the spot, at least for the moment. The Braves plan to move from Turner Field to a northern suburb called Smyrna, Georgia, at the start of the 2017 season. They will take the statue of Aaron with them, because they can rip it from the ground in front of Turner Field and carry it to their dream land.

The Braves can't move the spot, though.

Atlanta mayor: Cost too high to keep Braves

So there was Aaron, contemplating the spot's future after he used his famously rich voice to discuss nearly everything and everybody he encountered during his 80 years on Earth, and he did so with passion.

Aaron on Jackie Robinson: "Of course, back then (when I was a youngster), my mother expected me to go to school, but I had read the Dodgers were going to play an exhibition game in Mobile. Jackie was speaking at a drugstore and I said, 'I'm not going to get this opportunity again, so I better take my chances and listen to Jackie Robinson now.' Little did I know, I got front row seats, and next to me was my father. It was worth it, and I don't need to tell you what happened after that (a spanking)! But it was worth it. (Jackie) was my hero, always had been and not only because the baseball player he was, but for the person he was."

Still, despite Aaron adding that he felt an obligation to become the new Jackie as a vocal critic of baseball regarding diversity after Robinson's death in 1972, he didn't make that the most sentimental time of the interview.

Aaron on Martin Luther King Jr., and other civil rights leaders that he often encountered in Atlanta: "The one I had the most contact with was (Benjamin Mays, the president of Morehouse College and MLK's mentor). He and I were very close, and every year around Thanksgiving, he'd come over to my house and have a little Harveys Bristol Cream. He wouldn't drink much, but he would just sit down and tell you some stories. It was fascinating."

The same goes for Aaron's thoughts after No. 715 flew off his Louisville Slugger. "When I touched first base and got almost to second base, I started thinking about: 'Isn't this wonderful the fact that here I am, the third oldest child of Estella and Herbert Aaron, and the two of them are sitting in the stands, watching their son play professional baseball,' " Aaron said.

" 'Isn't it wonderful that they could be here on this day to witness history?' I tell you, to this day, I don't know how she managed to do it, but (my mother) got to home plate quicker than I got to home base."

That said, Aaron only battled a baseball-sized lump in his throat during the interview when he discussed the spot. "I certainly wouldn't want it destroyed," he said, with misty eyes. "I'd like for it to remain there in some way . . . I've not talked to the mayor, so I don't know what his thoughts are on it."

I know. I contacted the office of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and I got an e-mail from Reed praising Aaron, especially when it comes to his endless work helping kids through his Chasing the Dream Foundation. Then, after Reed said the city plans to redevelop the area around Turner Field when the Braves leave, Reed wrote, "I will do everything in my power to ensure that any development proposal considered by the City of Atlanta for the future of the Turner Field area maintains the integrity of this important monument to (Aaron's) record-smashing 715th home run."

When I told him that, Aaron just exhaled.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1424 GMT (2224 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1354 GMT (2154 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1310 GMT (2110 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1359 GMT (2159 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 16, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
August 17, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 2146 GMT (0546 HKT)
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2226 GMT (0626 HKT)
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2024 GMT (0424 HKT)
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1056 GMT (1856 HKT)
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2035 GMT (0435 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2308 GMT (0708 HKT)
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT