In 1973 Hank Aaron was approaching Babe Ruth’s home run record, and I was an 8 year old girl living in Augusta, Georgia. I didn’t care about sports at all, but it was impossible not to hear about Hank Aaron, especially at that time, in that place.
Most of our extended family lived in Oklahoma, so we made the drive halfway across the country at least once a year. The rules were simple on those roads trips: sit perfectly still and make no noise at all. Our car trips were always miserable because, to put it simply, my dad was a jerk. He also liked to listen to sports radio, so one particular trip in 1973 stands out in my mind as the year when we listened to men arguing about Hank Aaron until the radio station finally faded away into static.
The argument seemed to be whether is was a good thing or a bad thing that Hank Aaron was going to break Ruth’s home run record. I was young and naive and I knew little about life, and almost nothing about baseball. In fact, almost everything I knew about baseball came from a reading assignment I had in school that featured a story about Babe Ruth. So here’s what happened: I sided with the hate-filled racists who didn’t want Hank Aaron to break Babe Ruth’s record.
I know, I know… it sounds like I was a terrible person. In fact, I didn’t even know that Hank Aaron was black, and it wouldn’t have made any difference if I had. I didn’t know that was the issue. Somehow, even after all the time we spent in the car that day listening to the arguments on the radio, I missed that detail. The reason I didn’t want Hank Aaron to break that record (and I probably assumed this was the reason so many other people also didn’t want him to break the record) is because I felt sorry for poor Babe Ruth. Hank Aaron would break his record, and then Babe Ruth would be forgotten. I remember silently making a promise to Babe Ruth that no matter what happened, I would always remember him.
I find that my fears were unfounded. Babe Ruth hasn’t slipped into obscurity. And now there’s this Barry Bonds fella… I promise, Mr. Aaron… I’ll never forget you.