Earlier this spring, Major League Baseball held its annual civil rights gala weekend in Atlanta, where baseball’s luminaries from past and present gather to honor their sport’s long tradition of racial diversity. And there’s a lot to celebrate: professional teams regularly field players from across the U.S., Asia and especially Latin America. But as Dave Zirin, sportswriter for The Nation, tells us, when musician and fellow honoree Carlos Santana took to the podium, not everyone in Atlanta was cheering. Produced by William Brangham
While Zirin notes that Atlanta might have been an awkward location for baseball to hold its 2011 civil rights game because of the current controversy over Georgia’s recently passed immigration bill, many baseball fans will remember that 35 years ago, Atlanta was also the site of a historic moment for race relations – and baseball — in the U.S. It was April 8, 1974, when Hank Aaron finally broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record.
As Aaron got closer and closer to breaking Ruth’s historic record, he was barraged with death threats and racist letters by those who hated the idea that a black man would dare break the record of one of baseball’s great (white) figures.
But when the moment finally came — and “Hammerin’ Hank” drilled a fastball over Atlanta’s outfield wall for a homerun, the crowd went absolutely wild. Veteran broadcaster Vin Scully – displaying a restraint that would be almost unimaginable today – said nothing on-air for nearly two minutes, letting just the sound of the crowds and the fireworks be the appropriate tribute to Aaron’s accomplishment. When Scully finally spoke, he offered this near-perfect assessment: “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.”
You can listen to the audio of Scully’s call here.