The scene takes place in the film having for simple title the number 42, the number immortalized by Jackie Robinson. Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, who is played by Harrison Ford, tells Jackie, who is portrayed by the late Chadwick Boseman, that he saw a white youngster mimicking his batting position in a park ball.
The story reminds me of a memory from my youth. A friend from the Villeray neighborhood, Daniel Grégorio, had a signed Hank Aaron baseball bat that passed away last week.
When we went to play at Jarry Park, we took the postures of these players at home plate, regardless of their race and nationality. I saw myself in Aaron’s skin with my friend Daniel’s staff, even though I was hitting from the left.
We did not touch the “Babe”
Despite his exploits, Aaron was experiencing a tragedy in his career. He was getting thousands of death threats from brainless people who didn’t want an African American to overtake the great Babe Ruth.
Roger Maris, a white man, had gone through the same ordeal as he chased the mark of 60 homers in a season of the same Ruth, in 1961.
This story was also the subject of a film directed by comedian Billy Crystal, a great supporter of the Yankees before the Lord.
Because Maris had put in more games than Ruth to tie his mark and finished the season with 61 homers in 161 games compared to 154 for Ruth in 1927, Commissioner Ford Frick had promulgated that there would be two records, his and Ruth’s.
The Babe was an untouchable.
More reserved than Robinson
Like Jackie Robinson, Aaron has had to contend with the pangs of racism throughout his career. But unlike Robinson, he displayed more restraint on the matter.
From the moment Branch Rickey lifted the ban that prevented Robinson from responding to the bastards and injustices he suffered, he has championed his race until his last breath.
Paradoxically, he supported Richard Nixon, a Republican, in the presidential elections of 1960, because he felt that his opponent John F. Kennedy was not taking a sufficient stand on the plight of the African American population.
But once in the White House, Kennedy and his brother Bobby, to whom he had given the post of attorney general, began to outline civil rights for black emancipation.
He was speaking on the ground
Civil rights were adopted in 1965, but the mistreatment of blacks did not end. It was 1974 when Aaron hit the 715e circuit of his career that put him ahead of Ruth.
His teammate Phil Niekro, who died a month before him, said he had not seen him lose his temper. “I’m sure it happened, but if he got mad he kept that inside.” Aaron preferred to express himself with his staff.
Circuits that spoke
The great Ted Williams, who called himself and wanted to be known as the greatest hitter of all time, remembered hearing a home run from Aaron for the first time.
You read correctly.
It was during a Grapefruit League game between the Milwaukee Braves and the Boston Red Sox in 1954.
The ball Aaron struck had passed the fence at the outdoor field before continuing to fly over a few rows of trailers and land on the roof of the Red Sox locker room.
Williams, who wasn’t playing that day, had stormed outside to find out who had hit that ball with such a loud sound.
Bonds has his blessing
Twenty-two years later (1976), Aaron ended his career with the Milwaukee Brewers with 755 home runs. His record held until Barry Bonds surpassed him in 2007.
Aaron wasn’t in San Francisco the night Bonds hit his 756e circuit. He hadn’t watched the game on TV either because he would have had to go to bed later than usual due to the jet lag.
Popular belief was that he gave no credit to Bonds who had huge suspicions of steroid use. But a few days later, he congratulated Bonds in a video message that greatly appealed to the former Giants player and his fans.
Last February, Aaron was asked about these events as part of Black History Month on the show The Today Show, which has been on the NBC network since 1952.
Asked host Craig Melvin if he considers Bonds to be the king of the circuits, Aaron said yes without hesitation.
“I knew his father [Bobby] and I got to know Barry over time, he continued.
“It’s hard for me to digest this story and come to realize that Barry would have cheated. “
Asked then whether Bonds and the other players identified in the Mitchell report as having used doping products should be elected to the Hall of Fame, Aaron said yes again.
Surprised by his response, his interlocutor called him back.
“There are so many cheaters in the Hall of Fame,” Aaron retorted.
“I don’t see why Bonds and the others wouldn’t be admitted. “
And you, were you a cheater? Melvin asked him again.
“I didn’t know how to do anything,” Aaron replied with a smile.