You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we'll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.
ON THIS DATE IN 1974, No. 715 happened.
Braves relievers held a lottery of sorts on the day of 715, knowing it would be the night that Hank Aaron made history. Based on seniority, each reliever chose a location in the bullpen where each would stand in hopes catching home run No. 715. Cecil Upshaw, who had the most seniority, elected to stand next to the left-field foul pole because Aaron, with those impossibly strong hands and wrists, liked to hook the ball down the left-field line.
"I was the young guy in the bullpen. By the time it was my turn, I was way out in left-center field,'' reliever Tom House said. "Hank could hit them out anywhere, but I didn't like my chances. Then, as soon as he hit it, I thought, 'Oh my god, this is going to hit me in the chest.' I didn't even have to move. It was unbelievable. After I caught it, I ran the ball to home plate. I handed the ball to Hank. He was crying. I'd never seen Hank Aaron cry.''
The pressure was off, Aaron had passed the iconic Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list. Finally, the chase was over. Maybe now, the hate mail would stop; a black man in the Deep South had passed a white man, a legendary player, on the most important list in sports.
Two years ago, Aaron sat with Dave Flemming, Eduardo Perez and me in the booth for four innings of a Braves game on national TV. For 90 minutes, he told stories, with amazing recall, about his life and career. He made us laugh, he made us cry. We were mesmerized. It was the first time I've stopped keeping score at a game, because Aaron was all that mattered. That night, on Twitter, which is filled with hate, someone wrote, "If you ever meet someone who looks at you like Tim Kurkjian looks at Hank Aaron, marry that person.''
Hank Aaron in the booth. The highlight of my professional career.
Other baseball notes from April 8
In 1989, Jim Abbott, who was born without a right hand, made his major league debut. He skipped the minor leagues. Of all his amazing feats -- and there were many, including a no-hitter -- the most amazing might have been in spring training one year. He hit a triple -- with one hand.
In 1994, the Braves' Kent Mercker no-hit the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. The next day, he told me, "I stayed up all night watching the highlight on CNN Headline News every 20 minutes.''
In 1993, the Indians' Carlos Baerga became the first player in major league history to hit a home run left-handed and right-handed in the same inning. Baerga hit his homers off the Yankees' Steve Howe and Steve Farr. Howe-Farr. About 800 feet, that's how far.
In 2008, Placido Polanco set a major league record with 186 consecutive errorless games at second base. He told me he never wore a cup when he played second base -- it limited his movement around the bag. But he told me he always wore one when he played third base.
In 2003, a statue of Ralph Kiner was unveiled at PNC Park. Kiner was a Hall of Fame player, a beloved broadcaster and a wonderful man who never took himself too seriously. He was the king of the malaprop. He once called Reds catcher Dann Bilardello ... "Don Bordello.''
In 1979, pitcher Jeremy Guthrie was born. He loved to ride his bike to the ballpark. "After one start in spring training,'' Rockies teammate Michael Cuddyer said, "he rode his bike about 5 miles back to our facility. He had his glove on the handlebars. It was like a scene from 'The Sandlot.'''