Thirty seven years ago today Hammerin’ Hank hit #715 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Hank spent the entire off season just one home run shy of the Babe. The buildup of pressure during those months had to be something else. Hank came out on Opening Day and tied the Babe. That set up this game, and the moment that we all know so well. Barry Bonds has since passed Hank, but for some reason the record by Hank means more to me. Growing up the numbers 714 and 715 meant something. They still do today.
I listened this game on MLB.com as part of the Baseball’s Best series. As I said before it is only $6 for a year to watch or listen to some of the best games in Major League history. It is really money well spent.
The broadcast starts off with announcer Milo Hamilton ripping into baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn for not being at the game. It would be a topic that he would re-visit as the game went on. It tells you something about my perception of the players that I was wondering why the commissioner would not be at a game with the historical ramifications of this one. Of course 33 years later I was hoping that Bud Selig would not give Barry Bonds the respect of being at the game. Selig did not attend the games, and I still don’t think that he should have. I guess that tells you that I have judged Barry Bonds a bit. Nothing has been proven yet in a court of law, but I just assume he is guilty. To me the record belongs to Barry Bonds, but I will always think of the Babe and Hank when I think of the home run leaders. Hank must have had some of the same trepidations about being at the game because he did not attend the game himself.
This is one game that I really wish I could have watched in its entirety since LaPorte native Ron Reed started the game for the Braves, and ended up getting the win in a game that would go down in history. Last winter I saw him at Notre Dame during their baseball dinner. He talked about this game for the majority of his time at the podium. That combined with the fact that the dates line up make this the perfect game to feature today.
Listening to this game the announcers really seemed to like a young rookie named Ron Cey. Being so close to Chicago I grew up knowing just who Ron Cey was. He was a key to the Cubs run to the playoffs in 1984. Before that though he had a pretty good career in Los Angeles.
As I listened to the first Aaron at bat of the game I had to wonder what exactly was going through the mind of Dodgers pitcher Al Downing? Did the fact that his name could wind up in the history books have anything to do with the way he pitched to Hank that night? The blood had to be pumping a bit more, but on the other hand I bet Hank made a lot of pitchers feel that way over his career. Downing walked Hank his first time up, but that came back to haunt him as Dusty Baker hit a double that knocked him in to give the Braves a 1-0 lead.
The play that everyone remembers happened in the fourth inning. Darrell Evans was on first after an error by shortstop Bill Russell. I listened to the moment first, and then watched it on the above YouTube video. I love this call of the home run. I have a baseball playlist on my iPod, and this call is on it. Watching the video I love how you can see both Davey Lopes and Bill Russell congratulating him. You also have the visual that everyone remembers of the two fans who escort him to third base. Those two young men were only seventeen years old, but they found a way to get themselves into baseball lore. They were arrested for their effort, but it doesn’t seem to have affected them. One is a businessman and the other is an eye doctor.
After the home run a long delay occurred where the club honored Hank. I love hearing Hank tell the story about how hard his mother hugged him once she found him on the field. It is moments like this that really let you see what the record meant to everyone. She probably was well aware of the death threats and other such nonsense that her son was put through on his way to the Babe. It was probably a huge moment of relief once the record was broken.
The long delay to celebrate the home run must have gotten to Al Downing. He walked the next two batters, and was taken out of the game. The Braves would bat around that inning, and score four runs to take a 5-3 lead. Hank was taken out of the game after the 7th inning for defensive purposes. His final line for his historic night was 1-3 with one walk, 2 runs scored, 2 RBI’s, and the historic home run.
- Hank would go on to add 41 home runs to his total. His record was thought to be nearly untouchable, but Barry Bonds passed him in 2007.
- Ron Reed would go on to pitch for the Phillies on some very good teams in the late 70’s and early 80’s. He finished his career with the White Sox in 1984. He still lists that win as one of the biggest moments of his career.
- Al Downing would go 8-8 the rest of his career with a win in the 1974 NLCS. He would pitch until 1977, but never found the form that he had at the end of the 60’s.
I really had fun scoring this game. Listening to the radio broadcast brought back memories of listening to my White Sox in the late 80’s. I may end up trying this again a time or two before this project is complete. Here are my scorecards from this game.