And now … Hank Aaron.
Father Time, it seems is breaking up that old gang of mine.
Hank Aaron, who died Friday at age 86, becomes the 10th Hall of Famer to die since the start of 2020.
He joins Bob Gibson, Whitey Ford, Tom Seaver, Joe Morgan, Lou Brock, Al Kaline, Phil Niekro, Don Sutton and Manager Tommy Lasorda in passing away and taking generations of memories with them. Wasn’t it bad enough that 2020 had already taken sports greats Gale Sayers and Kobe Bryant from us?
That heavenly Hall of Fame cast doesn’t even include legendary righthander Don Larsen, who authored the only perfect game in World Series history.
Sadly, as you look around, you see those Boys of Summer from the glory days of the 1950s and 1960s disappearing before our eyes. Slipping away and leaving mostly grainy black-and-white video highlights for us to share.
My longtime favorites Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and Nellie Fox had already left us long ago before this trend began.
You see, I was spoiled growing up a baseball fan just outside Chicago. Two teams to watch, the Cubs and the White Sox, with games sometimes twice a day on WGN-TV, and innumerable trips to Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park to witness some of baseball’s greats in person.
Wrigley Field was an easy 50-cent “L” trip from the western suburbs. And my Dad happened to work with a guy who had “Night Owl” tickets for all the night games at Comiskey and passed them along many times as he cared for his sick mother.
Players I got to see in action read like a who’s who of baseball – Banks, Santo, Fox, Mantle, Ford, Kaline, Gibson, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, Minnie Minoso, Luis Aparicio, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Jim Bunning, Warren Spahn, Eddie Matthews, Brock as a Cubs’ rookie, Hall of Famer Billy Williams on Billy Williams Day and many more sunny afternoons.
I was fortunate enough to witness two no-hitters – one each at Comiskey and Wrigley. Bill Monbouquette of the Red Sox in August 1962 at Comiskey and Kenny Holtzman of the Cubs versus Aaron and the Atlanta Braves in August 1969.
In that Holtzman no-hitter, it was Aaron, of course, with a flair for the dramatic.
He made the edge-of-your-seat final out on a sharply hit ball to second base, just wide of the bag, and was thrown out by Glenn Beckert.
But earlier in the game Aaron had hit what appeared to be a sure home run, only to have a timely breeze blow it back into the ballpark where Williams, his back against the Wrigley ivy, jumped to catch it in the area known as “the well,” where the Wrigley wall characteristically bends to create a deeper outfield pocket.
So if anyone ever needed an asterisk on his home run record, I’d give it to the 755 homer-hitting Aaron, who is really baseball’s real home-run champ.
From where I sit – and where I sat – that blast ultimately would have been No. 756.
Not that “Hammerin’ Hank” needed another roundtripper on his resume.
As Aaron was chasing Babe Ruth’s home run record, he famously said he wasn’t trying to make people forget Ruth, he just wanted them to remember Henry Aaron.
Oh, they remember, Henry. They most assuredly remember.