Forty-six April 8ths ago, Hank Aaron passed Babe Ruth with his 715th home run.
And 46 years later, Aaron credits the courage and strength of Jackie Robinson when he broke the color barrier at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947, with the Brooklyn Dodgers for inspiring him to persevere and overcome the racism that relentlessly hounded him — death threats in the mail, his secretary Carla Corn instructed to open his letters and send them to the FBI, his daughter Gaile unable to go to Fisk University because of security concerns, and his need for security for the 2¹/₂ years leading up to hammering a 1-0 fastball from Al Downing to left-center in the bottom of the fourth at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium — on his march to Ruth’s sacred record.
“I thought that if he could stand up and take the abuse that he took, that I can do the same thing and be the same person, as long as God gave me the ability to play the game,” Aaron told The Post on the eve of his historic anniversary from his southwest Atlanta home.
And so Aaron, as much a gentleman of the sport as anyone who has played, felt a mixture of happiness and relief on the magical night when he made history.
“It was a time for me to stand up and be tall, to do what I was sent here to do,” Aaron, now 86, said.
Aaron, who finished with 755 HRs, won’t see any asterisks by his name when he proudly watches replays of his magic moment. It will be a different story for Barry Bonds, who broke Aaron’s record in 2007 and finished with 762 homers, because he is the disgraced slugging face of the steroids era.
“The only thing that I can say is that there absolutely cannot be an asterisk behind the thing that I did,” Aaron said.
“I did it in the time that I did it. I did it because God gave me the talent to do it with. There was nothing fancy about it, wasn’t anything suspicious about it. It was done because it was there for me to do it.”
Aaron recalls skipping school as a teenager to watch Robinson play against the Dodgers’ Mobile Bears minor league team.
“I didn’t watch him as far as a baseball player, I watched him as a human being, how he handled himself,” Aaron said.
“I went through some of the things similar to Jackie. Every time something happened, I looked to him, and I said, ‘If he can do it, then I ought to be able to do it, too.’ ”
Aaron is hopeful there can be a 2020 baseball season. I asked him if he would be apprehensive or scared in the kind of isolated setting MLB is considering during this COVID-19 nightmare, which keeps him, and most of us, from going outside.
“I don’t know whether I would be scared or not,” Aaron said. “I don’t think I would be scared. I think I would be about as brave I guess as you can be. God works in mysterious way. He gives you ability and things to do, and he looks forward to you accomplishing those things that He gave you the ability to do. … When I first started playing baseball, they wouldn’t let me play in Florida with my white teammates. They wouldn’t let me dress in the dressing room with my teammates. They wouldn’t let me do a lot of things. Those kinda things, I believe that God has a way of making things all right for everybody.”
On April 8, 1974, God made it all right for Hank Aaron. His mother joined him at home plate when play stopped.
“I was very thankful that my mother and my parents were here, that’s No. 1,” Aaron said. “It was quite a moment for me.”
And as he watches the highlights 46 years to the day later?
“It’ll make me feel happy,” Aaron said. “I’ve got a granddaughter [Emily Jewel] that’s out of college and she is quite proud of the fact that her grandfather set the record.”
Aaron, married 47 years to wife Billye, hadn’t been thinking about the anniversary until a friend called and reminded him Tuesday morning.
“I was not aware,” Aaron said. “I was aware that we were going through some tough times in this country, and I was worried about my grandchildren; I was worried about my wife and my home.
“And those are the things that I was worried about.”
A home run answer from Hammerin’ Hank.