Golden Baseball Magazine
October 7, 2014
Quotation

"There is no other game that is so shockingly correct in its original form. You look at the fact that a shortstop bobbles the ball, and the runner can run much faster. It still works out that they still have to do what they do as best as they can, and it's still exactly even. That's just incomprehensible. If it's 91 feet, it's different."

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld

Cardinals Clubhouse

  • Surprising '64 - September

    A disastrous homestand for the league leaders allowed the Redbirds to jump into the thick of the pennant race.

  • Cardinals Quiz - Who am I?

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Odd Baseball Facts

Player-managers won NL pennants seven straight years.

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From the Golden Archives

Bits of Baseball Lore

Rapid Robert and The Babe

How nine-year-old Bob Feller raised money to buy a baseball autographed by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

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The Ultimate Game

1958: Yankees @ Braves

Ahead three games to one, the Braves called the Yanks "over the hill" and "lucky to finish fifth" in the National League.

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How Would You Rule?

Runner from 2B misses base on way home

Baseball Quiz

Franchises that have never met in the World Series
Actors in the Drama
Sports Illustrated, 7/7/2014

From an article on Hank Aaron's HR against the Dodgers on
April 8, 1974 that broke Babe Ruth's record for most career HRs.


Al Downing today


Henry Aaron hits #715.


Downing watches Aaron run out his record-breaking HR.


Milo Hamilton today

Cliff Courtenay and Britt Gaston congratulate Aaron as he rounds the bases.


Tom House gives Aaron the ball.


Dr. Cliff Courtenay holds ball autographed by him, Aaron, and Britt Gaston

The Pitcher

The pressure didn't faze Al Downing. The marching bands that crowded the bullpen before the game and prevented Downing from getting a normal warmup didn't, either. The intermittent rain and pregame ceremonies? No big deal. Downing had debuted in the majors with the Yankees in July 1961, so after living through 2 1/2 months of deli­rium surrounding Roger Maris's chase of Babe Ruth's single-season home run record, he was ready for this challenge too. (He has always sus­pected that Dodgers manager Walter Alston chose him to start Aaron's potential record-setting game for exactly that reason.)

So when Downing walked Aaron in the first inning, that wasn't nerves. And when he left a fastball a little up in the fourth, that was just baseball. "I was not overwhelmed at all," he says. "He was the greatest home run hitter of all time. You're more upset if it happened with a guy who was not a good hitter."

Aaron's 715th wasn't a defining moment for Down­ing, who was pulled from the game two batters la­ter. He didn't even stay until the end of the game, and he gave only one interview that night, to George Plimpton, who strolled into the clubhouse and shared a cab back to the hotel with the pitcher.

Downing has embraced his role in history, attend­ing dinners and other events honoring the moment. He's retired now, after nearly three decades as a broadcaster, mostly for the Dodgers.

Downing knows that for some, his 17-year All-Star career has been reduced to a trivia question. But he doesn't regret being the one who gave up num­ber 715, and he was dismayed to hear pitchers ex­press a desire to walk Barry Bonds rather than be linked with him forever when Bonds broke Aaron's record in 2007.

"If you don't want to give up home runs," Downing says, "don't pitch."

The Radio Announcer

Outside the den of Milo Hamilton's condo in Hous­ton is the highlight of the 86-year-old sportscast­er's collection: the Hank Aaron wall. Hamilton has both his scorecards, home and away, from the night of April 8, 1974; the framed article from that week's SPORTS ILLUSTRATED; a two-foot TV adver­tisement from the time featuring Aaron; and a pho­tograph of Hamilton throwing his fist in the air as Aaron circled the bases.

Hamilton had all winter to plan what he'd say, but he let himself be spontaneous - with one excep­tion: "I made a mental note not to say, 'Holy Tole­do,'" which was Hamilton's catchphrase. "It was his day, not mine."

As it turned out, Aaron's will-it-get-out line drive left no room for a canned call. "I was a lucky son of a gun to be there and be the announcer," Hamilton says.

The Reliever

Tom House vividly recalls feeling that Hank Aaron's record-breaking home run was going to drill him in the forehead if he didn't get his glove up. And he remembers presenting the ball to Aaron with a simple, "Here it is, Hammer." But the seconds in between, when he ran the ball from the bullpen to home plate? "I have no clue how I got there," he says. "The guys told me afterward that it was the fastest I'd ever run."

An average pitcher (29-23, 3.79 ERA) who appear­ed in 289 games over parts of eight seasons with the Braves, Red Sox and Mariners, House reached the apex of his career on April 8, 1974. Catching Aaron's hit got him onto a Trivial Pursuit card and, he recalls, into at least one third-grade reading handbook.

The Party Crasher

Cliff Courtenay gets bored easily. Always has. But it wasn't boredom so much as bravado that led him to charge the field as a 17-year-old high school senior. He and his best friend, Britt Gaston, were on a college visit to Georgia, and Gaston's family got them tickets to the game. The friends were aware that Aaron had a chance to break the record that night but not so eager to see it happen that they got there on time.

"I think they made some announcements [like], If there's any funny business, people are going to jail," Courtenay says. "We must have missed those." When Aaron made contact, they leaped over the tarp and onto the field even before they realized the ball was gone. "That would've been embarrassing if it'd hit the wall," he says.

They caught up with Aaron as he rounded second and then headed for the leftfield stands. Quickly apprehended, they were taken to a stadium hold­ing cell, charged with unlawfully interfering with the occupation of another and then transferred to an Atlanta jail. (Gaston and Courtenay were released the next morning with a warning to stay out of trouble for six months.)

Courtenay still seems bewildered by the attention he receives. Now an optometrist, he rarely volun­teers information about his role that day; his wife, Lynn, didn't learn of it until they'd been dating for months and Courtenay's mother, Ruth, let it slip at dinner one night. But his parents bring it up. He's introduced as "that kid" at dinner parties, and a line once formed around him at a charity golf event.