(Memphis, TN) – As a youngster growing up in Georgia, Hank Aaron was always my favorite baseball player and hero. I still remember vividly the home run chase and the night he hit #715 to pass Babe Ruth, I get goosebumps when I watch a replay and hear Milo Hamilton’s voice make the call.
Once while working in a country club outside of Atlanta, Mr. Aaron was eating lunch after a round of golf. I mentioned to our head pro that I did not realize he was a member, to which he replied “If you are Henry Aaron, you are a member of every country club.” While his home run record has been eclipsed, he still remains the most respected ambassador of the game and a giant of a gentleman.
Since his last home run in July 1976, a lot has changed in the landscape of baseball. Of all the stadiums and parks he hit homeruns in, only six are still currently in use: Wrigley Field, Dodger Stadium, Oakland Coliseum, Fenway Park, Angel Stadium and Kauffman Stadium. Additionally, he hit homeruns in the Astrodome and the LA Coliseum which are still open but no longer used for baseball.
However, did you know Aaron once hit a home run right here in Memphis, at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium? Aaron was traded by the Braves to the Milwaukee Brewers after the 1974 season, it was a return to Milwaukee where he began his career. In 1975, the Braves and Brewers organized a two game exhibition schedule, one in Atlanta and one right here in Memphis.
The Liberty Bowl was not designed for baseball, so the outfield dimensions were much different than normal. Home plate was in the back of the South End Zone, almost on the Memphis home sideline and the right field fence was only 174 feet away between the 20 and 30 yard line. An advertisement for the game said in bold letters, “the Hammer can’t wait.”
The Brewers beat the Yankees on a Sunday afternoon game in Milwaukee 11-6 and then traveled to Memphis to play the 7pm Monday night exhibition. Aaron had just broken Babe Ruth’s career RBI record of 2,212 five days’ earlier and would be facing the Braves for the first time. To the joy of the 11,365 fans in attendance, Aaron would hit a 200 foot home run over the short right field wall in the first inning and later single before leaving for a pinch runner. The game was ultimately won by the Brewers 6-2 and it left behind some special moments to cherish.
Next time you take in a Memphis football game at the Liberty Bowl Stadium, walk down to Section 121, Row 11 and take a second to sense the moment from that night 43 years ago. It put our stadium and our city in rare historical company.