Today is the 40th anniversary of an amazing athletic accomplishment.
On April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run and broke Babe Ruth’s “unbreakable” record of 714.
Sadly, on August 7, 2007, steroid popping cheater Barry Bonds supposedly “broke” Aaron’s record. But in the minds of many, Aaron’s amazing achievement still stands as the one that counts.
The NY Daily News has a wonderful article about Aaron’s record and the hell he went through to reach it. Even if you don’t like baseball, I hope you’ll read it.
Tom House, an Atlanta Braves reliever at the time, tells about recovering the historic ball and giving it to Aaron after he touched home plate:
The game was stopped and, as fireworks flashed in the sky and Atlanta Stadium erupted into cheers, House made a jubilant dash toward home plate, where a relieved Aaron was being congratulated. “As fast as my legs would carry me,” House recalls. He held out the ball, which Sammy Davis Jr. had offered $25,000 for, and said, “Here it is, Hammer.”
Aaron, generally a portrait of quiet dignity and grace, was crying and holding his mother, Estella. “I had not seen much emotion out of Henry. That was cool,” House says now. “They both had tears in their eyes. She kept hugging him and hugging him.
“I heard later that she wouldn’t let go because she was afraid he was going to get shot. Some of the death threats had said he’d be shot at the plate.”
When Roger Maris broke the Babe’s single season home run record in 1961, it was a hellish experience for Maris. The abuse he endured forever changed his life and affected his outlook; but at least Maris was white. Aaron was a black man in an era of racial turmoil.
It remains an important moment in the game’s history not just because the quiet, dignified Aaron toppled Ruth’s 714, which was probably the most famous single number in sports. But because of what Aaron endured to get there — death threats, vulgar hate mail rife with the worst kind of racism imaginable.
All these years later, the home run is significant in another way, too — it reverberates in today’s game, among today’s statistics. Plenty of people believe Aaron is still the true home run king, not the Steroid Era Barry Bonds, who topped Aaron’s career mark of 755 by seven homers.
As he approached the record Aaron was getting daily hate mail.
In a UPI story that ran in the Los Angeles Times on May 17, 1973, Aaron said he got letters filled with invective every day.
“If I were a white man, all America would be proud of me,” Aaron was quoted as saying. “But I’m black. You have to be black in America to know how sick some people are. I’ve always thought racism a problem, even with as much progress as America has made.”
Aaron said he read the mail anyway. It wasn’t going to stop him.
There’s much more in the Daily News article, and I do hope you’ll go read it.
At Time, John Friedman argues that “Hank Aaron Would Have Faced Worse Racism Today.”
Henry Aaron’s record-setting 715th home run off Al Downing on April 8, 1974 still stands today as one of the greatest milestones in Major League Baseball history. By breaking the four-decade mark of the great Babe Ruth, Aaron strode out of the shadows – and stepped into a cauldron.
This accomplishment transcended sports. By his own accounts over the years, we can recognize that Aaron went through hell during that time. It was tough enough when reporters and camera crews chronicled his every at-bat and invaded his privacy. But that was the least of it. Here, a black man stood poised—while playing in the Deep South, to boot—to claim one of the sports world’s most storied marks. Bigots hounded Aaron and made his life miserable, at a time when he should have basked in the glow of both his historic achievement and the recognition that had eluded him for decades.
Still, you know what? We might conclude that Aaron got off easy four decades ago, long before social media dominated every facet of our lives and removed any shred of privacy.
Just try to imagine how much more intense and challenging his predicament would have been. Can you picture the potential for incessant racist taunts on Facebook and Twitter, not to mention the blogosphere? In the 1970s, the haters reached Aaron by what we call “snail mail.” Today, in our sped-up-world of modern communications, Aaron would have had no escape.
Is Friedman right? I hate to think so, but after what we’ve seen after Americans elected a black president, I have to wonder.
The situation in Ukraine continues to escalate.
The LA Times reports, Ukraine cracks down on demonstrators; Russia issues warning.
Ukrainian riot police cleared a regional administration building and public square in the eastern city of Kharkiv of hundreds of pro-Russia protesters Tuesday morning, detaining scores in the process, officials said.
“Seventy criminals were taken into custody during the operation,” Ukraine acting President Olexandr Turchinov told the parliament in televised remarks Tuesday morning.
In response, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a stern warning against the use of force on pro-Russia protesters in eastern Ukraine and alleged the direct involvement of private U.S. military experts.
“According to our information, Ukraine Interior Ministry and National Guard troops including militants of the illegal armed group the Right Sectort are being brought to the southeast regions of Ukraine,” read a statement posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s official website Tuesday. “A special concern is connected with the fact that abot 150 U.S. experts from the private military organization Greystone dressed in the uniforms of [Ukraine] special unit Sokol are involved in the operation.”
“The organizers and participants in the operation are assuming huge responsibility for the creation of threats to rights, freedoms and lives of peaceful residents of Ukraine,” the statement said.
It really doesn’t look like Russian president Vladimir Putin is going to stop with absorbing Crimea into Russia. From the Wall Street Journal this morning: Ukraine Could Be Plunged into Civil War, Warns Russia — Update.
Ukrainian police on Tuesday regained control of a government building occupied by pro-Kremlin separatists in one volatile eastern city as pro-Russian protesters in another appeared to be slipping into disarray.
As Ukraine’s new government pushed to show its authority in the region, Russia warned that the use of force to dislodge demonstrators who had taken over government offices could plunge the country into civil war.
Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of instigating the protests that began Sunday in Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk, suggesting that their powerful neighbor is trying to orchestrate a takeover similar to its incursion and annexation of Crimea. They have vowed to subdue the secessionists.
Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Tuesday morning that an “antiterrorist” operation had been launched in Kharkiv and around 70 separatists who had control of the regional administration building had been arrested.
He said roughly 200 pro-Russian agitators had barricaded themselves inside overnight and threw stun grenades and fired pellet guns at police and national guard officers who had surrounded the building. He said the protesters then set fire to a wing of the building and smashed windows. After the fire was contained, Mr. Avakov said special forces units stormed the building, made the arrests and seized a cache of weapons.
“The night in Kharkiv was endlessly long,” he said. “The boorish, brutal, ordered and generously paid pro-Russian aggression of the ‘protesters’ was off the charts.”
Mr. Avakov said that the Interior Ministry was moving more forces to the east of Ukraine to protect against further separatist activity.
But Russia’s foreign ministry threatened that any heavy-handed action by Ukrainian authorities could set off further violence.
If you’d like to read an in-depth analysis of the situation, check out this blog post by Prof. John Schindler of the Naval War College, Putinism and the Anti-WEIRD Coalition.
Awhile back I wrote about the discovery of a huge collection of art works
that had been found in Germany, many of which had likely been stolen by the Nazis during WWII. Now even more stolen art works have come to light, according to this article at Raw Story: German recluse’s ‘Nazi art trove’ much bigger than first thought.
Around another 60 artworks, including pieces by Monet and Renoir, have come to light at the Austrian home of an elderly German recluse whose earlier discovered art hoard is suspected to contain Nazi-looted works.
The latest pieces were found at the property in Salzburg belonging to Cornelius Gurlitt, his spokesman said Tuesday, just months after the art world was rocked by news of a spectacular trove of more than 1,400 works unearthed at his German home in 2012.
A first inspection indicates there is no Nazi loot — artwork that the fascist regime stole from Jewish owners or bought from them cheaply under duress — in the latest discovery, spokesman Stephan Holzinger said.
“More works were located in Cornelius Gurlitt’s house in Salzburg,” he said in a statement….
The Gurlitt case first made headlines late last year when it emerged that investigators had found more than 1,400 artworks in his Munich flat, including long-lost works by masters including Matisse and Chagall.
Gurlitt is now cooperating with authorities and has agreed to return any stolen pieces. From the Times of Israel:
Gurlitt’s father, Hildebrand, was an art dealer on assignment to the Nazis who died in 1956 in an accident; his son inherited the collection. In 2012, customs agents investigating Cornelius Gurlitt for tax evasion confiscated his Munich stash of some 1,400 works.
The existence of the collection — which includes works by artists such as Picasso, Dürer, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Beckmann and Matisse – was kept under wraps until Focus magazine broke the story last fall.
Spurred by art provenance researchers and restitution advocates around the world, Germany established a task force to deal specifically with the Gurlitt case. It includes experts recommended by the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, among others.
In the meantime, works collected by the elder Gurlitt also were found to be stashed in his son’s home in Salzburg, Austria, as well as in other locations in Austria and Switzerland.
Gurlitt, 81, has maintained that his collection is legitimate. Earlier this year, his attorneys publicized a new website where possible heirs could contact him.
Yesterday The Smoking Gun broke a surprising story about activist and MSNBC host Al Sharpton.
Beginning in the mid-1980s and spanning several years, Sharpton’s cooperation was fraught with danger since the FBI’s principal targets were leaders of the Genovese crime family, the country’s largest and most feared Mafia outfit. In addition to aiding the FBI/NYPD task force, which was known as the “Genovese squad,” Sharpton’s cooperation extended to several other investigative agencies.
TSG’s account of Sharpton’s secret life as “CI-7” is based on hundreds of pages of confidential FBI affidavits, documents released by the bureau in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, court records, and extensive interviews with six members of the Genovese squad, as well as other law enforcement officials to whom the activist provided assistance.
Like almost every other FBI informant, Sharpton was solely an information source. The parameters of his cooperation did not include Sharpton ever surfacing publicly or testifying on a witness stand.
Genovese squad investigators–representing both the FBI and NYPD–recalled how Sharpton, now 59, deftly extracted information from wiseguys. In fact, one Gambino crime family figure became so comfortable with the protest leader that he spoke openly–during ten wired face-to-face meetings–about a wide range of mob business, from shylocking and extortions to death threats and the sanity of Vincent “Chin” Gigante, the Genovese boss who long feigned mental illness in a bid to deflect law enforcement scrutiny. As the mafioso expounded on these topics, Sharpton’s briefcase–a specially customized Hartmann model–recorded his every word.
Sharpton told Politico that he wasn’t technically an informant. He had turned to authorities for help because of threats against him.
“I was never told I was an informant or I had a number or none of that,” the MSNBC host told the New York Daily News. “Whether or not they used some of the other information they got during that period for other purposes, I don’t know.”
The paper reported that Sharpton said he contacted authorities after receiving death threats.
“If you’re a victim of a threat, you’re not an informant — you’re a victim trying to protect yourself,” Sharpton said.
Sharpton also noted that this isn’t breaking news; it has been reported more than once in the past.
“I don’t see this as news,” Sharpton told FoxNews.com. “This has been brought up three or four times now. I don’t understand. It’s crazy.”
The New York Daily News also has a lengthy write-up of the story if you want more details.
Those are the stories that caught my eye today. What are you reading and hearing? Please post your links in the comment thread, and have a great Tuesday!