Hank Aaron home run still brings back wonderful family memories

While most eyes on Monday were aimed at the eclipsed sky, mine were deep in my shoe box of baseball memorabilia.

It’s not as vaunted as it used to be … just a stack of cards, some collectible coins, maybe a ticket stub or two. But from a childhood of collecting, it’s what mattered most to me.

What I dug for, and found, was a 50-year-old flipbook of Atlanta Braves Hall of Famer Hank Aaron hitting his record-breaking 715th career home run on April 8, 1974. It was compiled from a full-page, frame-by-frame series of photos of Aaron’s historic swing, published by the Chicago Tribune.

When cut out and glued to index cards, you could flip through the cards and watch the home run. Over and over again. Which is exactly what we did as kids in the Schmit household in Glenview.

And it’s exactly what I did Monday on the 50th anniversary of Aaron’s famous shot off the Dodgers’ Al Downing in Atlanta.

As you can probably tell by now, we’re taking a short break from prep sports to bring back a wonderful family memory. Thanks in advance for allowing me this digression.

I was only 4 years old when the home run pushed Aaron past Babe Ruth’s career mark of 714, but that flipbook and what it represents still resonates for me.

At the time, Aaron’s chase was huge. He hit 40 home runs in 1973 but remained just shy of the record at the end of the season.

That only built the anticipation heading into 1974. And we — my older brothers (Ed and Jim), our dad and I — were ready.

In the 1970s, my dad worked for Brunswick and MacGregor, a sporting goods company and a Brunswick subsidiary. MacGregor had a sponsorship deal with Aaron, which meant my brother Jim had an awesome Hank Aaron glove he played with constantly.

To this day, you can still kind of see Aaron’s face and signature on the glove.

On Jim Schmit’s 50-year-old MacGregor baseball glove, you can still barely see Hank Aaron’s face and signature. Courtesy of Jim Schmit

So, yeah, we were ready for No. 715.

As a family, including my mom and my older sister (Carolyn), we cut out each frame of the newspaper flipbook and carefully pieced it together.

But we wanted to take one more step. My dad helped us write a telegram to Aaron (part of a Western Union promotion), congratulating him on the achievement.

We knew Aaron probably wouldn’t read it (well, maybe 4-year-old me had hopes), but by sending it we felt like a small part of history. My brothers even wrote an article about the telegram for the school newspaper at Henking Elementary.

Year later, when I heard about the racist letters and death threats Aaron received during the home run chase, that small token of a telegram began to take on a meaning much greater than the flipbook. It meant more than everything else in that beat-up shoe box, too.

  The frame-by-frame Hank Aaron flipbook published in 1974 by the Chicago Tribune. Kevin Schmit/

I was too young to recognize the racial hatred of the time, never knew about the minority of people in the country who despised watching Aaron, a Black man, pass Ruth, a white man, for perhaps the most-coveted record in all of sports.

All we were doing was saying congrats, via telegram, to a hero of ours.

Knowing what Aaron and his family endured during that time, the sickening and ignorant words and images, still shocks me. I know it shouldn’t, given the nation’s history with race, but Aaron was an inspirational figure to me and my entire family.

I guess naive, 4-year-old Kevin just assumed everyone felt that way.

Think I’ll check out that flipbook one more time before putting the shoe box back in the closet. Congrats, Hank.

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