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Aaron still waiting for apology
Posted: Thursday April 08, 1999 08:45 PM
ATLANTA (CNN/SI) -- It's been a quarter of a century, and Hank Aaron is still waiting.
Waiting for an apology from one, just one, of the thousands of people who sent him racist hate mail during the time that he was chasing Babe Ruth's home run record.
During a chat Thursday on CNNSI.com, Aaron was asked if he has ever received a note or a call apologizing for the harassment he endured during his quest.
"No," Aaron said on the 25th anniversary of his record-breaking 715th home run.
"I've never received any apology."
He paused and continued: "Would I accept it if I did? I would accept it. Yes. Would I have a choice?"
In 1973 and into 1974, as Aaron closed in on Ruth's record, he received the mail. In his 1991 memoir, "I Had a Hammer," he quoted from some of the letters.
"Retire or die!" threatened one letter-writer who said that Aaron would be shot while the Braves were on the road in New York or in Philadelphia . Another wrote: "Whites are far more superior to jungle bunnies.... My gun is watching your every move."
And at least one threatened Aaron's family: "I got orders to do a bad job on you if and when you get 10 from B. Ruth record. A guy in Atlanta and a few in Miami Fla don't seem to care if they have to take care of your family too."
The police were notified and a bodyguard was hired to protect Aaron. But he said that his approach to the game never wavered. Asked in the chat if he ever contemplated quitting because of the hate mail, Aaron said, "Not one time. I was not about to quit."
Aaron said that he just kept going up to the plate "waiting for a good pitch to hit."
When that pitch arrived on April 8, 1974, Aaron answered all the letters with one swing. The good pitch -- a high fastball -- came from Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Al Downing, and Aaron hit it over the left-center-field wall at the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
Now 65 years old, Aaron sat in his office at Turner Field across the street from the demolished stadium where a plaque and portion of the old ballpark wall serve as a monument to the historic home run. Aaron's hair is flecked with grey, and he wears bifocals. His hands, still large and powerful, are gnarled from a 23-year Major League career that began with the Braves in Milwaukee in 1954, and ended in that same city with the Brewers.
During Thursday's chat, Aaron noted that someone chasing his record today would not have to suffer the ordeal that he did. But a quarter century later, Aaron is still waiting for an apology. Just one.
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