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Don't erase Hank Aaron's spot in history

By Terence Moore
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Tue April 8, 2014
Hank Aaron's record-breaking home run 40 years ago was an achievement worth celebrating, writes Terence Moore.
Hank Aaron's record-breaking home run 40 years ago was an achievement worth celebrating, writes Terence Moore.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's home run record 40 years ago
  • Terence Moore: Aaron's record is marked with a memorial in Turner Field parking lot
  • He says Aaron and others want to make sure the spot is kept even after Braves move
  • Moore: Aaron's record-breaking home run was more than just a baseball achievement

Editor's note: Terence Moore has been a sports columnist for more than three decades. He has worked for the Cincinnati Enquirer, the San Francisco Examiner, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and AOL Sports. Follow him on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- So there was Hank Aaron, leaning back in his chair during an exclusive CNN interview in the clubhouse of an Atlanta golf club, and the former slugger of the Atlanta Braves was fretting over the spot.

What's going to happen to the spot, he said, raising his eyebrows? It's the spot that was visited on April 8, 1974, by a baseball representing the 715th home run of his career.

Just like that, Babe Ruth's record was history.

Terence Moore
Terence Moore

So is the spot -- almost.

For now, the spot is preserved in a parking lot that once was Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium, where Aaron sealed his immortality with his high-arching blast over the fence in left-center field. The spot is surrounded by part of the old ballpark's outfield wall, and high above the spot is a large baseball-shaped placard with the inscription: Hank Aaron, home run, 715, April 8, 1974.

The whole scene is illuminated by lights. As a result, those traveling across the street to the Braves' current place of Turner Field can see the spot as they either walk through or drive by the parking lot at night.

"I'd hate for that mark to be destroyed," said Aaron, shaking his head while looking visibly distraught. "In fact, I've gone out there with several people and taken pictures at that spot."

That spot is among the places in the universe that should remain as unmolested as possible for eternity. Think Gettysburg. The Mount of Olives. Dealey Plaza. Tranquility Base.

What Aaron did 40 years ago Tuesday with a flick of his quick wrists was as much for society as it was for baseball. Just 27 years after Jackie Robinson broke the game's color barrier, Aaron was a black man from Mobile, Alabama, shattering the most sacred of records, not only for baseball, but for sports. The old mark belonged to a white man who was so beloved that he is credited with helping to save the game during the 1920s.

Hank Aaron -- and two young men -- rounded the bases after Aaron hit a record-breaking home run in 1974.
Hank Aaron -- and two young men -- rounded the bases after Aaron hit a record-breaking home run in 1974.

Chasing Ruth's ghost was challenging enough, but Aaron also had to battle a slew of hate mail and death threats. He succeeded, and for proof, there is the spot, at least for the moment. The Braves plan to move from Turner Field to a northern suburb called Smyrna, Georgia, at the start of the 2017 season. They will take the statue of Aaron with them, because they can rip it from the ground in front of Turner Field and carry it to their dream land.

The Braves can't move the spot, though.

Atlanta mayor: Cost too high to keep Braves

So there was Aaron, contemplating the spot's future after he used his famously rich voice to discuss nearly everything and everybody he encountered during his 80 years on Earth, and he did so with passion.

Aaron on Jackie Robinson: "Of course, back then (when I was a youngster), my mother expected me to go to school, but I had read the Dodgers were going to play an exhibition game in Mobile. Jackie was speaking at a drugstore and I said, 'I'm not going to get this opportunity again, so I better take my chances and listen to Jackie Robinson now.' Little did I know, I got front row seats, and next to me was my father. It was worth it, and I don't need to tell you what happened after that (a spanking)! But it was worth it. (Jackie) was my hero, always had been and not only because the baseball player he was, but for the person he was."

Still, despite Aaron adding that he felt an obligation to become the new Jackie as a vocal critic of baseball regarding diversity after Robinson's death in 1972, he didn't make that the most sentimental time of the interview.

Aaron on Martin Luther King Jr., and other civil rights leaders that he often encountered in Atlanta: "The one I had the most contact with was (Benjamin Mays, the president of Morehouse College and MLK's mentor). He and I were very close, and every year around Thanksgiving, he'd come over to my house and have a little Harveys Bristol Cream. He wouldn't drink much, but he would just sit down and tell you some stories. It was fascinating."

The same goes for Aaron's thoughts after No. 715 flew off his Louisville Slugger. "When I touched first base and got almost to second base, I started thinking about: 'Isn't this wonderful the fact that here I am, the third oldest child of Estella and Herbert Aaron, and the two of them are sitting in the stands, watching their son play professional baseball,' " Aaron said.

" 'Isn't it wonderful that they could be here on this day to witness history?' I tell you, to this day, I don't know how she managed to do it, but (my mother) got to home plate quicker than I got to home base."

That said, Aaron only battled a baseball-sized lump in his throat during the interview when he discussed the spot. "I certainly wouldn't want it destroyed," he said, with misty eyes. "I'd like for it to remain there in some way . . . I've not talked to the mayor, so I don't know what his thoughts are on it."

I know. I contacted the office of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and I got an e-mail from Reed praising Aaron, especially when it comes to his endless work helping kids through his Chasing the Dream Foundation. Then, after Reed said the city plans to redevelop the area around Turner Field when the Braves leave, Reed wrote, "I will do everything in my power to ensure that any development proposal considered by the City of Atlanta for the future of the Turner Field area maintains the integrity of this important monument to (Aaron's) record-smashing 715th home run."

When I told him that, Aaron just exhaled.

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