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Hank Aaron and the Home Run That Changed America Hardcover – March 30, 2004

4.8 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In April 1974, Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run, breaking Babe Ruth's longstanding record for homers, which Aaron had days earlier tied on his first swing of the '74 baseball season. Stanton, whose The Final Season won the Casey Award for best baseball book of 2001, gives a solid account of Aaron's career and the tumultuous year preceding his historic run. This is a fitting celebration in advance of the upcoming 30th anniversary of the event, as well as a solid tribute to the man who "played in more games, got more at-bats, knocked in more runs, collected more total bases, recorded more extra-base hits, and hit more home runsâ€"755â€"than any other ballplayer." The most fascinating and horrifying part of Stanton's accountâ€"sadly for baseball historyâ€"is the extent to which Aaron's historic run was marred by constant hate mail and death threats from so-called fans angry that a black man would soon be breaking a white man's record. Stanton effectively uses ballpark attendance records to show that, while Aaron was selling out stadiums across the country, his own Atlanta Braves ballpark was "two-thirds empty" on the day that he hit home run 700, and that 10,000 seats were unsold before the day he broke the record, while 35 million to 40 million people watched or listened to the game worldwide. Stanton shows how Aaron came to understand that "the home run record carried significance beyond baseball," and how he effectively used the media attention to consciously continue the legacy of Jackie Robinson and strongly argue for the increased role of African-Americans in major league baseball management.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Stanton covers the time from the funeral of Jackie Robinson in 1972 to the spring of 1974, when Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run and passed Babe Ruth's record. His prose is awash in that sentimental, old-fashioned baseball reporting style as he connects Aaron to Ruth; to Robinson, who was one of Aaron's heroes; to Willie Mays, nearly Aaron's contemporary and the other great black player during his era; and to other black players of the time, including Dusty Baker. Stanton is at pains to describe the viciousness of the hate mail Aaron was subjected to as he challenged Ruth, the threats to his family, and the lack of support the Atlanta Braves got at home. But he also writes about the groundswell of support that grew for Aaron and the fan ecstasy that accompanied him at the end and beyond. It's a sobering tale, but a hero's story. GraceAnne DeCandido
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition edition (March 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060579765
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060579760
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #186,945 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mark J. Fowler VINE VOICE on November 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Like author Tom Stanton, I was a little boy when Henry Louis Aaron was closing in on baseball's crown jewel record: Babe Ruth's 714 home runs. I lived in Forest Park, Georgia, about 12 miles south of Atlanta Stadium, and I had the good fortune to be able to see about a half dozen of Mr. Aaron's home runs in person. I played with the other boys in our neighborhood, and when the Braves were playing we always had the radio on. We could talk and joke and laugh through the rest of the game, but our voices would hush when Milo Hamilton would tell us "Aaron is on deck". Hank would come to the plate and our room would erupt with joy if we got to hear Milo's typical home run call. "There's a long drive.... It's going back.... WAY back.... It's OUT of here! Home Run number 683 for Henry Aaron!"

Anyway - I had to begin this review by admitting what a HUGE hero Hank Aaron is in my life.

All that being said, this book is both very informative and disappointingly bland. It was good to hear the names of those Braves from the past - in particular Aaron progeny Dusty Baker and Ralph Garr. Darrell Evans and Davey Johnson who joined Aaron as the only 3 teammates in history to hit 40 home runs the same year. (1973, the year before historic #715). Eddie Matthews, who was once Hank's teammate, the two teammates with the most life-time home runs, then served as Hank's manager during the years that make up the bulk of the book. Hall of Fame teammates Phil Niekro and Warren Spahn. Hall of Fame opponents like Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver and Don Sutton.

Most enlightening were the details of the paths Hank followed behind Jackie Robinson as a ground-breaking African-American excelling in the National Pasttime.
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Format: Hardcover
It's simply unbelievable to think that the years 1973 and 1974, years after the progress of the civil rights movement, saw Hank Aaron come under fire of severe racial hatred and prejudice. His crime? He went after the "sacred" all-time home run record of Babe Ruth. Death threats, tinged with racial slurs, to himself and his family followed him as he slowly approached home run number 715. Some ugly undercurrents of American society simultaneously emerged.

This book recounts Aaron's journey from an underrated baseball star of the 1950s and 1960s to an undisputed baseball legend. It even harkens back to Babe Ruth's days of fast and reckless living as he slammed 714 home runs throughout the 1920s and 1930s. This record was thought by many to be completely untouchable (and termed "The Mountain"). So who was this Henry "Hank" Aaron, a not so celebrated but extremely well-rounded player, from the Braves to suddenly come out of almost nowhere to challenge the sport's demi-god? People finally began to notice as Aaron snuck up on the all-time record. By the time he reached number 700 a country-wide media craze exploded. Aaron found himself caught in the middle complete with body guards, a private secretary, appearances on television shows, magazines, hordes of fan mail, and, most significantly, horrific hate mail. Even Babe Ruth's widow didn't seem too enthusiastic about Aaron's increasing home run numbers. Even more unbeliveable, the baseball commissioner at the time, Bowie Kuhn, didn't personally congratulate Aaron on #700. And on top of that, the book even records that, as Aaron went for the big record, Atlanta fans showed up in increasingly smaller numbers to home games. But eventually they redeemed themselves.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The subtitle of this book, "The Home Run That Changed America," may seem a bit lofty to those born too soon to remember this record-breaking blow. But in these pages, Tom Stanton does a fine job of interweaving the story of Henry Aaron's chase of baseball's most hallowed record with the tale of the impact of that pursuit on the larger society. Stanton's love for the game shines through in this narrative, as does his sense of shame for those elements of the public who greeted Aaron's achievement not with praise, but scorn and hatred.
The narrative begins in the fall of 1972 with Aaron among those in attendance at the funeral of Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the color barrier in modern baseball. The bulk of the book tells the story of the 1973 season, which saw Aaron surpass Willie Mays for second place on the career home run list and finally fall one short of Ruth's magic total of 714. Over the course of that season Aaron had to endure the ravages of age (he was thirty-nine), a steadily intensifying media circus, and most disheartening of all, a vocal stream of hatred and abuse, most (if not all) of it racially motivated.
The retrospective distance of three decades makes it clear that if anyone was prepared to endure this great strain, it was Henry Aaron. While other players in bigger media markets like Mays and Mickey Mantle had captured the public's imagination with flashier performances, Aaron had been toiling away in Milwaukee and Atlanta, steadily building up career totals that would place him in the first rank of baseball's Hall of Fame...and humanity's as well.
Aaron came back for the 1974 season determined to put the quest for the record behind him as quickly as possible. This couldn't come without controversy, either.
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