Bisher: The steady drumbeat of a Hammer

On Hank Aaron hitting home run No. 715

First published: April 9, 1974

RELATED: See the Atlanta Constitution front page the next morning. Headline Aaron Hammers 715 and Moves Ahead of Ruth

The flower of American sporting journalism was caught with its tongue tied. With its fingers arthritic. Its brain turned into a glob of quivering gelatin. Its nervous system drawn as tight as a banjo’s strings.

It had rehearsed every move, memorized every line. Then took the stage to perform and every word stuck in its throat.

Henry Louis Aaron hit the 715th home run in the 2,967th game of his major league career, and nobody had anything left to say. I mean, there just aren't 715 ways to say that Henry Aaron hit a home run. Besides, they'd worn out all the others in a long winter's anticipation, and last week when he hit No. 714 in Cincinnati.

In fact, No. 715 was only a rerun of No. 693, also hit off Al Downing in Atlanta Stadium with a man on base. And it was nothing to compare with No. 400, which cleared everything in Philadelphia and came down somewhere near Trenton. Aaron's guest of honor that night was Bo Belinsky.

There is this to be said about it: It was the first home run he has ever hit after hearing Pearl Bailey sing the national anthem. It was also an occasion added to extensively, though witlessly, by the absence of Bowie Kuhn, riotously referred to as the Commissioner of Baseball.

It was a Louisville bat against a Spalding ball, which hit a BankAmerica sign over the left-field fence and was fielded by a left-handed pitcher named Tom House. Fifty-three thousand people saw it in person, but what they weren't going to appreciate so much was when they got home they learned that with their tickets their sellout had bought free television for the other million and a half Atlantans who stayed at home.

The Braves had thrown open the show for local consumption just before the field was turned into a riot of color, Americana, teary-eyed emotionalism, political swashbuckling and deafening fireworks.

Alphonse Erwin Downing has won a Babe Ruth World Series for Trenton, N.J., and pitched in a World Series for the New York Yankees. He has won 115 games, 20 in one season, and become known as a steady, reliable member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. But Monday night he carved his initials on America's memory.

He has a new cross to bear. He won't be remembered for the 115 games, but for the inside fastball that Aaron hit over the fence.

At the same time, he assured several pitchers of a place in posterity, a little hall of notoriety of their own. They all belong to the "We Served Henry Aaron a Home Run Club, " senior member Vic Raschi, then on the shady side of a substantial career and serving it out as a St. Louis Cardinal.

The lineup of Aaron's victims is a procession of extremes, from Sandy Koufax, who was on his way to the Hall of Fame, to Joe Trimble, a Pittsburgh rookie who never won a game in the majors.

He hit No. 10 off Corky Valentine, who now may be seen around town as a cop. Then, he was a Cincinnati Red.

He hit one off an infielder, Johnny O'Brien, one of a pair of famous college basketball twins who was trying to discover a new career with the Pirates. He hit one off a Congressman, the Honorable Wilmer Mizell (R-NC). Wilmer was then "Vinegar Bend, " a bumpkin rookie with a bashful smile and the kind of "Aw, shucks!" personality that made sports reporters look him up.

He hit another off Faul and off Law, and another off a Brewer, a Boozer and a Barr. One off Rabe and one off Mabe. And off Hook and Nye.

He hit ‘em off Morehead and Moorhead. And R. Miller and R.L. Miller, three different Jacksons, and Veale and Lamb.

With No. 715 he assured permanent attention for handservants merely passing that way. Otherwise, Thornton Kipper, Herb Moford, John Andre, Rudy Minarcin, Tom Acker, Lino Dinoso, Art Ceccarelli and the improbable Whammy Douglas would have passed on and been forgotten. They are now forever engraved on the marble of Aaron's record like the roll of soldiers memorialized on a courthouse monument.

Naturally, one is supposed to feel that he has been witness to one of the monumental sports events of all history, if he were in the park. These things don't penetrate the perspective so soon. You're overprepared. It's not like sitting there watching this flippant youth, Cassius Clay, knock a bear like Sonny Liston out of the world heavyweight title. Or Centre College whip Harvard.

There's no shock to get your attention. No. 715 was anticipated, awaited like a childbirth. It's like buying a ticket to watch a bank get robbed, or a train wreck. Everybody's so thoroughly ready that nobody can appreciate the history of it all. Even the President sat in Washington with his dialing finger exercised for action.

"He invited me to the White House, " Aaron said. It is suggested that he not loiter on the way.

"Magnavox gets the ball and the bat for five years, then they go to the Hall of Fame, " he said. That covered several other loose ends.

I don’t want to fuel still another fire, but as I depart I feel compelled to leave with you another record in the line of fire: Aaron is well ahead of Ruth’s pace the year of his 60 home runs. The Babe didn’t hit his second home run until the 11th game.