Obit of the Day: Chasing Hank Aaron
On April 8, 1974 Hank Aaron knocked an Al Downing fastball into the Atlanta Braves’ bullpen for home run number 715, making him the all-time leader, passing Babe Ruth. After he came around second base two young men ran up behind him, patted him on the back and fled the frame. The two 17-year-olds are now as connected with that home run as Aaron, Downing, announcer Vin Scully, and Braves pitcher Tom House, who caught the ball.
The boys, Britt Gaston (brown jacket) and Cliff Courtenay (navy sweater), were arrested and were bailed out by Gaston’s dad, who was at the game with them. It may be the best $100 ever spent.
The boys were lucky they were only arrested. The previous season and into April 1974 Aaron had received numerous death threats from those who felt a black man had no right to surpass the achievements of a white man. Aaron had even hired a bodyguard. Britton and Courtenay may just as easily been beaten to a pulp. But Aaron, after what appears to be a slight moment of panic, shrugged them off.
Britt Gaston, who passed away at the age of 55 on September 3, 2011, reunited with Courtenay and Aaron in 2010 for the first time in 36 years.
(Video of Aaron’s home run is courtesy of beefweef on YouTube.com and copyright of the Atlanta Braves and Major League Baseball.)
[Originally posted in 2011 and re-posted in honor of the 40th anniversary of Mr. Aaron’s home run.]
Hank Aaron at his press conference following the game where he passed Babe Ruth with home run 715.
The Braves beat the Dodgers 7-4.
WP - Ron Reed
SV - Buzz Capra
LP - Al Downing
Photo courtesy tucec9.tumblr.com
Hank Aaron hitting home run number 715 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
April 8, 1974
Aaron went 1-3 with a walk, and the 2-run home run in the 4th inning off Al Downing. Darrell Evans was on first following a walk went Aaron went deep. Tom House caught the ball in the Braves bullpen.
2014 MLB Anniversaries
Of course the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field is top on the minds of MLB this season but there are a few other interesting (and ignominious) anniversaries this season:
- 1919 - Chicago White Sox throw the ‘19 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds
- 1924 - Washington, D.C. wins it’s one, and so far, only World Series
- 1934 - The Cardinals’ Gas House Gang beats the Tigers in the World Series
- 1939 - On July 4, the Yankees will celebrate the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” speech
- 1954 - Willie Mays’ catch
- 1969 - 45th anniversary of the Miracle Mets
- 1974 - Hank Aaron passes Babe Ruth on April 8
- 1979 - Thurman Munson dies in a airplane crash on August 3
- 1984 - The Tigers win the World Series after leading the AL from wire-to-wire
- 1989 - An earthquake interrupts game 3 of the BART series (Giants vs. A’s)
- 1994 - Baseball players’ strike ends the season early and cancels the World Series for the first time since 1905
- 1999 - This awesome All-Star Game moment (Jump to 36:10)
- 2004 - Red Sox win their first World Series since 1918
Not a complete list but we’re OK with that.
(Image of Weeghman Field in 1914, became Cubs Park in 1916 and Wrigley Field in 1926 courtesy)
Just for the record the Mets were the ‘73 NL Champs and the Tulsa Oilers won the AA that year. The Astros and Bears were, of course, being punished by the baseball gods who were angered by this ridiculous cover.
Obit of the Day: The Pirates’ Only Living Hall of Famer
So many trivia questions, so little time:
What player has the most career home runs in their first 5 seasons?
Who is the only player to lead his league in home runs for 7 consecutive seasons?
Who was the first National League slugger to hit 50+ home runs in two consecutive seasons?
Who was the second person, after Babe Ruth, to hit at least 40 home runs in five consecutive seasons?
Who was the only National Leaguer to hit at least 54 home runs between 1931 and 1997?
The answer to all of these questions is “Ralph Kiner.”
And yet, he was barely elected to the Hall of Fame, receiving 273 votes (he needed 272) in 1975 his 15th and final year of eligibility, from the Baseball Writers Association of America. Even the Pittsburgh Pirates, for whom he set all those records, didn’t retire his uniform number, 4, for another twelve years.
Part of the reason for the Hall of Fame delay was his limited time on the field. Mr. Kiner retired from baseball at age 32 after a back injury made it impossible for him to play. It was so hampering that after his first seven seasons he had hit 294 home runs, but in his last three only 75.
And the Pirates were terrible during his time with the franchise. Between the time Mr. Kiner joined the team in 1946 and when he was traded to the Chicago Cubs in 1953, Pittsburgh never finished higher than fourth and usually in the bottom half of the National League standings. (Later Pirates Hall of Famers, like Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente, were part of perennial playoff contenders including two World Series crowns.)
He did receive more recognition during his career than after. He was selected to six consecutive All-Star games (1948-1953) and finished in the top ten in MVP voting for five straight seasons (1947-1951) especially impressive playing on such abysmal teams.
Following Mr. Kiner’s retirement he found a successful second career as a broadcaster. Spending the 1961 season with the Chicago White Sox, Mr. Kiner headed to New York to join the television broadcast booth with Bob Murphy and Lindsay Nelson for the expansion New York Mets. Mr. Kiner would broadcast Mets games for 52 seasons. He was the last of the original Mets’ broadcasters.
Known for misspeaking on occasion - wishing a hearty “Happy Birthday!” on Fathers’ Day - Mr. Kiner became more closely identified with the Mets than the Pirates by the end of his career. (A friend of Obit of the Day who is lifelong Pittsburgh fan believes this is why he is overlooked by the Pirates and their fans.)
Ralph Kiner, the fourth oldest living Hall of Famer, died on February 6^, 2014 at the age of 91.
(Image of Ralph Kiner, circa 1948-1953, is uncited - on six different websites - and courtesy of democratherald.com)
^ Coincidentally Mr. Kiner died on Babe Ruth’s birthday. Mr. Ruth was the only person to hit home runs more often than Mr. Kiner (11.76 at-bats per home run vs. 14.11) until the sluggers of the 1990s.
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Well look what we have here. After the unveiling of “Clark” on January 13, 2014 by the Chicago Cubs, we are down to three teams in Major League Baseball who have not debased themselves adopting a mascot: the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and the New York Yankees. I admire these three proud franchises who have not simply catered to the hoi polloi and —- wait, what? The Yankees had a mascot? A fuzzy, goofy character to entertain children and inebriated fans? You’re kidding! Tell me more!
Travel back with me to the 1979 baseball season. Thirty-five years ago, when the House That Ruth Built was home to only 22 World Championships and Monument Park was filled with names like Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, and Berra. And the Yankees introduced “Dandy” a short-lived but very troubled figure in Yankee history1.
It all starts with the Phillie Phanatic, as so many baseball stories should. The Phanatic was introduced to the Veterans Stadium crowd on April 25, 1978. The Phillies decided they needed to reach out to more families at the ballpark and saw a mascot as one solution. Designed by Bonnie Ericson2and Wayde Harrison, the 6‘ 6” green fuzzy creature with a long tongue was an immediate hit, which made fans happy and the Phillies even happier. The club estimated that their new mascot added another $2 million in revenue through the sales of Phanatic-themed souvenirs alone.
It did not take long for word to travel from Philly to the Bronx. But unlike the then-hapless Phils, the Yankees fortunes were riding as high as they possibly could. The 1978 season was glorious. The Yankees won their second straight World Series championship, even though it took three managers to get there: Billy Martin, Dick Howser, and Bob Lemon. The roster was an All-Star team unto itself with Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, Lou Piniella, Reggie Jackson, Ron Guidry, Catfish Hunter, Tommy John, Goose Gossage all penciled into the lineup at one time or another. And their success paid off, as they led the American League in attendance with over 2.3 million coming through the gates3 . Everything was coming up Steinbrenner.
But the Phillies showed that there was more money to be had.
So the Yankees turned to Ericson/Harrison, Inc. to create a giant, fuzzy, Yankee-themed mascot of their very own. The result? A tall pear-shaped body, akin to his green cousin from Philly, with a pinstriped body (“a dyed-in-the-wool Yankee fan”), a mustache that was to remind people vaguely of Yankee captain Munson, an oversized Louisville Slugger, and a Yankee cap…that spun around. He was nicknamed “Dandy,” as in “I’m a Yankee Doodle…” Now before we start judging it as atrocious, please remember that this was the 1970s, and that’s how the whole decade looked.
Ericson and Harrison had to present the designs personally to Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner. After a brief argument over whether the pinstripes were royal or Yankee blue, the Yankees’ principle owner agreed to contract Dandy for three seasons for $30,000. He would be presented to fans at the end of July 1979.
Then the San Diego Chicken had to ruin it all. The Chicken, the most famous of all baseball mascots, originally attached to the Padres but later on freelance (let’s hear it for The Baseball Bunch!) was working for the Seattle Mariners4 on July 10, 1979. As the story goes the Chicken put a “jinx” on Yankee ace Ron Guidry5, which Lou Piniella - fiery as always - did not take too kindly too. He chased after the Chicken, and threw his glove at him in a classic Piniella rage.
Following the game Mr. Steinbrenner, who apparently sided with his left fielder over a giant fake chicken, stuck a knife in the heart of Ericson, Harrison, and Dandy by saying that “mascots had no place in baseball.” Awkward.
Thus was Dandy doomed to fail. Because of the incident in Seattle, Dandy was not allowed anywhere near the field at Yankee Stadium for fear of distracting players or umpires. So while the Phanatic was dancing on dugouts and riding ATVs in the outfield, Dandy was relegated to the upper decks. Out of sight, out of mind.
Things got worse after August 2, 1979 when Thurman Munson died in a plane crash. The already ostracized Dandy was quietly hidden for a time as few fans would want to his Munson-inspired mustache around the ballpark.
Dandy was all but done. Rick Ford, the performer hired to dress up and perform as Dandy, had practiced choreography for weeks but it was shelved. The famed Yankee organist Eddie Layton wrote a special song for Dandy but it was never played and the music is lost to history. Dandy was to the Yankees as Sloth was to the Fratellis.
After the 1981 season, Ericson, Harrison, and the Yankees agreed to part ways. The Dandy costume was tossed out into the garbage but their company, Acme Mascots, still have the designs and the rights to Dandy. So if you hope he gets another chance, there’s still hope. The business partners survived the Dandy fiasco and continued to design mascots for MLB, NFL, and NBA teams including Youpie of the Montreal Expos, K. C. Wolf of the Kansas City Chiefs, Stuff the Magic Dragon (!) of the Orlando Magic, G. Wiz of the Washington Wizards, Hugo of the Charlotte Hornets (who will return when the Bobcats revert back to the Hornets in 2014-2015), and Jaxon deVille of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
But as we mock “Clark” for his resemblance to Kit Cloudkicker from TaleSpin and concerning lack of pants, we must remember that 25 years ago another storied franchise tried its hand at the mascot game….and it was much, much worse.
(Image of Dandy is copyright of Acme Mascots and Wayde Harrison and courtesy of whattalking.com)
Like Carl Pavano but the mascot made more appearances and cost 1/7000 the price.
 Ms. Ericson created Miss Piggy and Statler and Waldorf, so she is completely legit, and amazing.
 The Yankees were fourth in MLB that season behind the Dodgers (3.3 million), Phillies (2.6 & the Phanatic), and the Reds (2.5).
 The Mariners did not introduce their own mascot, Mariner Moose, until 1990
 Jinxes are not real.
Josh Eisenberg is the proprietor of Obitoftheday.com, the most popular obituary site on Tumblr. He also writes for MLBOffseason.com and just started ItHappenedin1974.tumblr.com. In his free time, Josh is an above average stay-at-home dad for his five kids and an excellent tour guide for the Chicago History Museum.
My contribution to this year’s blogathon.
Makes Clark seem like a good idea.
Here is one hour of color footage, via WGN, of Jim Maloney’s August 19, 1965 no-hitter versus the Cubs.
Playoffs using some old names:
Perfectos vs. Alleghenys or Redlegs
Superbas vs. Rustlers
Americans vs. Naps or Devil Rays
A’s vs., er, Tigers
They will always be the Brooklyn Bridegrooms to me.
They now own the MLB record for most strikeouts by a team in a season, 1530.
Ironically, this season the Tigers also set a record for most strikeouts by a pitching staff in a season with 1417.
The last time the Pittsburgh Pirates played more than 162 games in a season was 1992. Just a reminder of what was going on 21 years ago (when this post author was starting college):
* The #1 song in September 1992 was “End of the Road” by Boyz II Men (yes MLBOffseason spent $1.29 to bring you that memory). Other 1992 top hits: “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a-Lot, “Jump” by Kriss Kross, and “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton
* The number one film in 1992 was Disney’s Aladdin. Other hits: The Bodyguard, Home Alone 2, Batman Returns, and Wayne’s World
* Mortal Kombat was released as an arcade game and Super Mario Kart was introduced on the Super NES.
* George HW Bush was President of the United States
* Mark Rypien led Washington past Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVI
* The Winter and Summer Olympics were still held in the same year (Albertville, France and Barcelona, Spain)
* Barney and Friends premiered on PBS
* Microsoft released Windows 3.1
* Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi won the women’s and men’s singles titles at Wimbledon. They were neither dating nor married.
* The Cartoon Network began broadcasting
* Bryce Harper and Miley Cyrus were born
"End of the Road" and Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville are copyright of Decca Records
Based on their schedule this must include both sweeps by them AND of them, otherwise I could only find five.
Here are the teams that the Indians swept:
vs. A’s, May 6-9 (home)
vs. Mariners, May 17-20 (home)
vs. White Sox, June 28-30, includes a double header (away)
vs. White Sox, Sept. 12-15 (away)
vs. Astros, Sept. 19-22 (home)
They were swept by the Tigers in Cleveland, August 5-8.
The Indians end the season with a 4-game series, at the Twins (Sept. 26-29)
Lou Gehrig has held the record for most grand slams in a career (23) for 74 years.
Tonight, Alex Rodriguez surpassed that by hitting his 24th grand slam off George Kontos of the Giants in the 7th inning.
This is not as cool as it might have once been.
Full disclosure: My oldest son is named for Gehrig….so I’m completely biased.