Al Downing was on the mound for the Dodgers. In the fourth inning, with the Braves losing 3-1 and Darrell Evans on first, Aaron swung at a Downing slider, and baseball had a new Home Run King. There was chaos on the field.
As her son rounded first base, the diminutive Estella "just flew over the railing," recalls Alfredia. "I was so scared. I said to my husband, 'Go get Mama!' "
As Aaron rounded second base, two college students appeared and ran alongside him. He pushed one of them away with his arm. In the stands Wardlaw touched his binoculars case with the gun inside and thought, Should I go out there? Should I stay? "It was the hardest decision of my life," he says now.
At the plate Mathews and Evans and all the Braves were waiting to mob the new Home Run King...but a woman in her early 60's, her cap of hair stiff in the breeze as she ran, got to him first.
"Mama just jumped into Henry's arms and squeezed him around the neck and put a hammerlock on him," Alfredia says. "They couldn't get her off him. She just wouldn't let go. Later, I said, 'Mama, what in Lord's name were you doing?' She wasn't running out there out of happiness. She was running out there because she thought her son was going to die. She told me, 'If they were going to kill my son, they were going to have to kill me, too.' "
The morning after Game 1 of the 1992 NLCS, Hank Aaron shuts his office door at the CNN Center, removes his gold-rimmed spectacles and says, "Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Roberto Clemente, Ernie Banks, Lou Brock, Frank Robinson, Bob Gibson—we came along and saved what would have become the dullest game in history. We brought excitement, speed. We paid our dues, man. No one knows what we had to go through—get off the bus, go get dressed somewhere else, go cat on the other side of town, get back in half an hour ready to play. What has baseball done for us? How many of those guys are around the game today? The white man allowed us a few crumbs. 'You can sit right here in the front of the bus so long as you're pulling in money. After that, it's back to the back of the bus.' "
The vice-president's smooth corporate monotone is gone; his voice is growing loud, harsh. "They say we don't have the 'mental necessities' to sit behind the desk, we just have God-given talent. But, man, I had to work hard, too. I had to think. I didn't have any more natural talent than Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio. I played the game 23 years, and that tells me I had to study some pitchers pretty well. But no—I was a 'dumb s.o.b.' It's racism. These things really anger me."
The latest things to anger Aaron are racial slurs attributed to Cincinnati Red owner Marge Schott. Two weeks ago, it was reported that in a December 1991 deposition Schott gave in response to a lawsuit by a former employee, she acknowledged having used the word nigger in conversation and said it was "possible" that she had referred to the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. as "Nigger Day." She denied reports that she had referred to former Red players Eric Davis and Dave Parker as her "million-dollar niggers."
Aaron spoke out immediately, telling The Cincinnati Enquirer, "Baseball must come forward and make it known to the world: We won't stand for this. There is no place for it in the national pastime.... Baseball must investigate."
The Home Run King's comments were widely reported around the country. For the next two days reporters from all over called his office. But Aaron granted no more interviews, returned none of the calls. The Hammer had taken his cut. "And that," he told his secretary, Susan Bailey, "is all I have to say about that."