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Aaron set to savor 40th anniversary of 715th homer PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, April 08, 2014 12:00 AM

Associated Press

 

ATLANTA — Hank Aaron was more relieved than jubilant after he broke Babe Ruth's home-run record on April 8, 1974.

The 40-year anniversary of his 715th homer provides a different perspective.

Aaron's record-breaking homer will be celebrated tonight before the Atlanta Braves' home opener against the New York Mets.

Hate mail and threats made it impossible for him to savor the chase of Ruth's revered record but Monday, he said he'll enjoy the anniversary because such old friends as former teammate Dusty Baker will return for the pregame ceremony.

"I guess that's just about what it's all about, really," Aaron said in a telephone interview. "That's it. The moment itself has passed. The home run was hit and whatever else. It's just enjoying some moments with friends."

Aaron, 80, told reporters he has a greater appreciation for fans who still celebrate his career.

"It does. It means an awful lot to me," Aaron continued. "I'm not one to go around bragging about certain things. I played the game because I loved the game. ... I am quite thrilled that people say that he, whatever he did, should be appreciated. That makes me feel good."

Aaron said he is pleased with his recovery from partial left hip-replacement surgery in February. He hurt his hip when he slipped on ice and said he's still in rehab but can walk.

"I think I am doing just about as well as I can be," Aaron added. "I tell everybody it's an 80-year-old leg and it's just going to take time before it gets well. I told my wife I promised I was not out there doing an ice dance or anything like that."

The Braves will wear an Aaron 40th anniversary patch on their uniform sleeves this season. An outfield sign at Turner Field also will mark the anniversary.

Baker had the best seat in old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium — the on-deck circle — as Aaron launched the landmark homer against the Dodgers' Al Downing. For Baker, it was like watching an older brother or even a father figure make history.

"People ask me, 'What was the highlight of your career?' That was it," Baker told The Associated Press.

Baker said Aaron watched over him and another young outfielder, Ralph Garr.

"Hank told my mom he would take care of me like I was his son," Baker recalled. "He would make us eat breakfast.

"He was our defender. If you were wrong, he would tell you. If you had a legitimate beef, he would back you. Ralph and I were with him every day. Half of what I got about taking care of players came from how Hank took care of us."

Aaron finished his career with 755 homers, a mark topped by Barry Bonds' 762. Bonds' career was tarnished by steroids allegations.

Aaron was efficient as he put the record chase behind him at the start of the 1974 season. He tied Ruth's record with his first swing of the season at Cincinnati, against Jack Billingham. Four days later, he set the record with his first swing of the year at home.

Before hitting the homer into the Braves' bullpen beyond the left-field wall, Aaron told Baker what was about to happen.

"That I can remember like it was yesterday," Baker recalled. "It was a cold, cold night in April. Hank told me, 'I'm going to get this over with now.' He knew every pitch that was coming. He had total recall of pitch sequences. He was as smart as they came."

Aaron confirmed Baker's tale on Monday: "I think that was right. I think I made that remark and made it to Dusty maybe three or four times. I just felt within myself that eventually before the night was over I was going to hit a home run."

The homer was a defining moment for such young kids as Terry Pendleton, who was 13 and dreaming of playing in the major leagues.

Like other fans across the country, Pendleton rushed to his TV to watch every at-bat as NBC broke into its normal prime-time programming to follow the home-run chase.

"I still feel so fortunate to have seen it on TV," recalled Pendleton, the Braves' first-base coach and the NL MVP with Atlanta in 1991. "What a thrill and it meant so much to black kids like me hoping to play baseball. I still am amazed every time I get to talk to Hank. ... I don't think players today understand what he went through and what it all meant to people back then."

For Aaron, the home-run record was not his greatest achievement. He takes the most pride in holding the record with 2,297 RBIs and never having 100 strikeouts in a season.

"There was absolutely no time that anybody could say, 'well he hit a lot of home runs but he struck out a lot of times',' Aaron said. "That was not to be. That was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life, to go to the plate and strike out once or twice and not be able to make contact."

Aaron joked he long ago learned he no longer can swing a bat or throw a ball very far. But he said he'll cherish the memories with friends during the anniversary celebration.

"I'm going to enjoy myself as much as I can," he added.

Dr. Frank Jobe remembered at Dodger Stadium

LOS ANGELES — Dr. Frank Jobe, who pioneered the elbow procedure that became known as Tommy John surgery and saved the careers of countless pitchers, was remembered Monday as a gifted and caring surgeon with a sense of humor.

Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Vin Scully presided over an hour-long service at Dodger Stadium that ended with cups of vanilla ice cream being handed out in near 90-degree temperatures. Jobe loved the cool treat. He died last month at 88.

"Frank had a happy life that went a full nine innings," Scully said from a platform on the field with Jobe's photo displayed on the giant video board.

John himself spoke about the man whose name became forever linked with his after the 1974 surgery that saved his career. The Dodgers pitcher had a ruptured medial collateral ligament in his left elbow, an injury that had no remedy until Jobe removed a tendon from John's forearm and repaired his elbow.

"I'm Tommy John and I'm the guinea pig," he told several hundred people sitting in the last seven shaded rows of the field-level seats.

John went on to pitch 14 years after the operation, compiling 164 more victories without ever missing a start because of an elbow problem.

John said he last saw Jobe in January at a PGA Tour event in La Quinta, Calif. Jobe had been the tour's longtime orthopedic consultant.

"We just told stories and laughed," he recalled. "He was the best friend a person could have but he was a helluva surgeon, too. When you lose a friend, it hurts and it hurts a lot."

The surgery has since become common practice for injured pitchers and players at every level of baseball, with some pitchers signing multi-year contracts just months after they have the surgery in expectation of a high-level return.

Former colleague Dr. Bernard Morrey recalled that Jobe practiced the ligament replacement surgery in the lab before he performed it on John.

"It was the hard work that complemented Frank's gifted hands that changed everything," he added. "He made a difference to baseball and our profession."

Meredith Jobe, one of Frank's four sons with wife Beverly, spoke on behalf of the family. He recalled his father carving the Thanksgiving turkey while insisting on "good lighting and sharp knives."

Jobe described his father, born an only child in Greensboro, N.C., as "a late in life surprise with Vin Scully-bright red hair."

The elder Jobe had served the Dodgers' organization for 50 years, most recently as special adviser to the chairman. The courtly Southerner attended the team's games always dressed in a suit and tie as recently as last season, with someone on either arm escorting him.

"Frank was a kind, thoughtful, gracious man," Morrey said. "Just didn't change."

Among those paying respects were former Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser, whose right shoulder was reconstructed by Jobe; Dodgers' president and CEO Stan Kasten; Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt; Anne Meyers Drysdale, widow of Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale; former Dodgers outfielder Rick Monday; and Los Angeles Lakers' general manager Mitch Kupchak.

 

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