This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.
Find the past “On This Day in History” here.
April 8 is the 98th day of the year (99th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 267 days remaining until the end of the year.
On this day in 1974, Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves hits his 715th career home run, breaking Babe Ruth’s legendary record of 714 homers. A crowd of 53,775 people, the largest in the history of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, was with Aaron that night to cheer when he hit a 4th inning pitch off the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Al Downing. However, as Aaron was an African American who had received death threats and racist hate mail during his pursuit of one of baseball’s most distinguished records, the achievement was bittersweet.
Breaking Ruth’s record
Although Aaron himself downplayed the “chase” to surpass Babe Ruth, baseball enthusiasts and the national media grew increasingly excited as he closed in on the home run record. During the summer of 1973 Aaron received thousands of letters every week; the Braves ended up hiring a secretary to help him sort through it.
At the age of 39, Aaron hit 40 home runs in 392 at-bats, ending the season one home run short of the record. He hit home run number 713 on September 29, 1973, and with one day remaining in the season, many expected him to tie the record. But in his final game that year, playing against the Houston Astros (led by manager Leo Durocher, who had once roomed with Babe Ruth), he was unable to achieve this. After the game, Aaron stated that his only fear was that he might not live to see the 1974 season.
Over the winter, Aaron was the recipient of death threats and a large assortment of hate mail from people who did not want to see a black man break Ruth’s nearly sacrosanct home run record. The threats extended to those providing positive press coverage of Aaron. Lewis Grizzard, then editor of the Atlanta Journal, reported receiving numerous phone calls calling them “nigger lovers” for covering Aaron’s chase. While preparing the massive coverage of the home run record, he quietly had an obituary written, scared that Aaron might be murdered.
Sports Illustrated pointedly summarized the racist vitriol that Aaron was forced to endure:
“Is this to be the year in which Aaron, at the age of thirty-nine, takes a moon walk above one of the most hallowed individual records in American sport…? Or will it be remembered as the season in which Aaron, the most dignified of athletes, was besieged with hate mail and trapped by the cobwebs and goblins that lurk in baseball’s attic?”
Aaron received an outpouring of public support in response to the bigotry. Newspaper cartoonist Charles Schulz satirized the anti-Aaron camp in a series of Peanuts strips printed in August 1973, in which Snoopy attempts to break the Ruth record, only to be besieged with hate mail. (As Lucy puts it in the August 11 strip, “Hank Aaron is a great player…but you! If you break Babe Ruth’s record, it’ll be a disgrace!”) Babe Ruth’s widow, Claire Hodgson, even denounced the racism and declared that her husband would have enthusiastically cheered Aaron’s attempt at the record. Ruth, who was unprejudiced, had himself been subjected to racial taunts during his youth, by those who fancied that he had Negroid features.
As the 1974 season began, Aaron’s pursuit of the record caused a small controversy. The Braves opened the season on the road in Cincinnati with a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds. Braves management wanted him to break the record in Atlanta, and were therefore going to have Aaron sit out the first three games of the season. But Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn ruled that he had to play two games in the first series. He played two out of three, tying Babe Ruth’s record in his very first at bat off Reds pitcher Jack Billingham, but did not hit another home run in the series.
The team returned to Atlanta, and on April 8, 1974, a crowd of 53,775 people showed up for the game-a Braves attendance record. In the fourth inning, Aaron hit career home run number 715 off Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Al Downing. Although Dodgers outfielder Bill Buckner nearly went over the outfield wall trying to catch it, the ball landed in the Braves’ bullpen, where relief pitcher Tom House caught it. While cannons were fired in celebration, two white college students, Cliff Courtney and Britt Gaston, sprinted onto the field and jogged alongside Aaron for part of his circuit around the bases, temporarily startling him. As the fans cheered wildly, Aaron’s parents ran onto the field as well.
Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully addressed the racial tension – or apparent lack thereof – in his call of the home run:
“What a marvelous moment for baseball; what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia; what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron. … And for the first time in a long time, that poker face in Aaron shows the tremendous strain and relief of what it must have been like to live with for the past several months.”
A few months later, on October 5, 1974, Aaron hit his 733rd and final home run as a Brave, which stood as the National League’s home run record until it was broken in 2007. Thirty days later, the Braves traded Aaron to the Milwaukee Brewers for Roger Alexander and Dave May. On May 1, 1975, Aaron broke baseball’s all-time RBI record, previously held by Ruth with 2,217. That year, he also made the last of his 21 record-tying (with Musial and Mays) All-Star appearances; he lined out to Dave Concepcion as a pinch-hitter in the second inning. This All-Star game, like his first in 1955, was before a home crowd at Milwaukee County Stadium.
217 – Roman Emperor Caracalla is assassinated (and succeeded) by his Praetorian Guard prefect, Marcus Opellius Macrinus.
1093 – The new Winchester Cathedral is dedicated by Walkelin.
1139 – Roger II of Sicily is excommunicated.
1149 – Pope Eugene III takes refuge in the castle of Ptolemy II of Tusculum.
1730 – Shearith Israel, the first synagogue in New York City, is dedicated.
1808 – The Roman Catholic Diocese of Baltimore is promoted to an archdiocese, with the founding of the dioceses of New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Bardstown (now Louisville) by Pope Pius VII.
1820 – The Venus de Milo is discovered on the Aegean island of Melos.
1832 – Black Hawk War: Around three-hundred United States 6th Infantry troops leave St. Louis, Missouri to fight the Sauk Native Americans.
1864 – American Civil War: Battle of Mansfield – Union forces are thwarted by the Confederate army at Mansfield, Louisiana.
1866 – Italy and Prussia ally against Austrian Empire.
1886 – William Ewart Gladstone introduces the first Irish Home Rule Bill into the British House of Commons.
1893 – The first recorded college basketball game occurs in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania.
1895 – In Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co. the Supreme Court of the United States declares unapportioned income tax to be unconstitutional.
1904 – The French Third Republic and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland sign the Entente cordiale.
1904 – Longacre Square in Midtown Manhattan is renamed Times Square after The New York Times.
1906 – Auguste Deter, the first person to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, dies.
1908 – Harvard University votes to establish the Harvard Business School.
1911 – Dutch physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes discovers superconductivity.
1913 – The 17th Amendment to the United States Constitution, requiring direct election of Senators, becomes law.
1916 – In Corona, California, race car driver Bob Burman crashes, killing three, and badly injuring five, spectators.
1918 – World War I: Actors Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin sell war bonds on the streets of New York City’s financial district.
1929 – Indian Independence Movement: At the Delhi Central Assembly, Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt throw handouts and bombs to court arrest.
1935 – The Works Progress Administration is formed when the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935 becomes law.
1942 – World War II: Siege of Leningrad – Soviet forces open a much-needed railway link to Leningrad.
1942 – World War II: The Japanese take Bataan in the Philippines.
1943 – U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in an attempt to check inflation, freezes wages and prices, prohibits workers from changing jobs unless the war effort would be aided thereby, and bars rate increases by common carriers and public utilities.
1945 – World War II: After an air raid accidentally destroys a train carrying about 4,000 Nazi concentration camp internees in Prussian Hanover, the survivors are massacred by Nazis.
1946 – The last meeting of the League of Nations, the precursor of the United Nations, is held.
1946 – Électricité de France, the world’s largest utility company, is formed as a result of the nationalisation of a number of electricity producers, transporters and distributors.
1950 – India and Pakistan sign the Liaquat-Nehru Pact.
1952 – U.S. President Harry Truman calls for the seizure of all domestic steel mills to prevent a nationwide strike.
1953 – Mau Mau leader Jomo Kenyatta is convicted by Kenya’s British rulers.
1959 – A team of computer manufacturers, users, and university people led by Grace Hopper meets to discuss the creation of a new programming language that would be called COBOL.
1959 – The Organization of American States drafts an agreement to create the Inter-American Development Bank.
1960 – The Netherlands and West Germany sign an agreement to negotiate the return of German land annexed by the Dutch in return for 280 million German marks as Wiedergutmachung.
1961 – A large explosion on board the MV Dara in the Persian Gulf kills 238.
1968 – BOAC Flight 712 catches fire shortly after take off. As a result of her actions in the accident, Barbara Jane Harrison is awarded a posthumous George Cross, the only GC awarded to a woman in peacetime.
1974 – at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Hank Aaron hits his 715th career home run to surpass Babe Ruth’s 39-year-old record.
1975 – Frank Robinson manages the Cleveland Indians in his first game as major league baseball’s first African American manager.
1975 – Voyageurs National Park was established in northern Minnesota.
1985 – Bhopal disaster: India files suit against Union Carbide for the disaster which killed an estimated 2,000 and injured another 200,000.
1987 – Los Angeles Dodgers executive Al Campanis resigns amid controversy over racially charged remarks he had made while on Nightline.
1992 – Retired tennis great Arthur Ashe announces that he has AIDS, acquired from blood transfusions during one of his two heart surgeries.
1993 – The Republic of Macedonia joins the United Nations.
1999 – Haryana Gana Parishad, a political party in the Indian state of Haryana, merges with the Indian National Congress.
2004 – Darfur conflict: The Humanitarian Ceasefire Agreement is signed by the Sudanese government and two rebel groups.
2005 – Over four million people attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II.
2008 – The construction of the world’s first building to integrate wind turbines is completed in Bahrain.
2008 – Yi So-Yeon becomes the first Korean and second Asian woman to go into space.
* Birkat Hachama, observed once every 28 years, the next one is in 2037 (Hebrew)
* Buddha’s Birthday, also known as Hana Matsuri, “Flower Festival” (Japan)
* Christian Feast Day:
* DABDay – Draw A Bird Day
* Earliest day on which Fast and Prayer Day can fall, while April 15 is the latest; celebrated on the second Friday in April (Liberia)