[“Hank Aaron, who passed away at age 86 on Friday, was a guest in 1974 at the annual Albion Sports Night at the Knights of Columbus Hall. Richard Monacelli, left, served as chairman of the event. He and his sons, Dan (second from right) and Rich, are pictured with the baseball legend for the Atlanta Braves.” From “Hank Aaron, just before breaking home run record, visited Albion in 1974,” OrleansHub.com (1/23/21)]
In the last months, we’ve lost three great Black baseball players: Joe Morgan, Dick Allen and, last week, Henry Aaron. Of the three, only Aaron visited Rochester and the Rochester-area. Aaron’s most dramatic visit was on January 23rd, 1974 when he attended the Albion Sports Night at the Knights of Columbus Hall.
(See Mt. Morris’s Roscoe Barnes was the Joe Morgan of his era and Remembering Richard Anthony Allen (March 8, 1942 – December 7, 2020), Feared Slugger Who Stood Up to Bigotry)
In January 1974, Hank Aaron was arguably at the height of his fame. During the 1973 season, Aaron chased Babe Ruth’s mythical mark of 714 career home runs, ending the season tantalizingly close at 713. Aaron’s quest put him in the national spotlight even as he endured a mountain of hate mail and a flurry of death threats.
Aaron’s obituary, “Hank Aaron, Home Run King Who Defied Racism, Dies at 86” (NYT, 1/22/21) describes the heightened anticipation during the off season as Aaron remained two home runs from eclipsing a baseball icon:
As Aaron chased Ruth’s record in 1973, he finally emerged as a national figure. He appeared on the covers of Time and Newsweek and was sought out for television and newspaper interviews.
(left) Newsweek, 8/13/74; (right) Ebony,September 1973
Charles Schulz, whose “Peanuts” comic strip had become a staple of national popular culture, turned his attention to Aaron in August 1973 with drawings that ridiculed the bigots besieging him. . .
Charles Schulz Peanuts, August 15th 1973 “Charles Schulz uses Snoopy as a proxy for the hate that Hank Aaron got from ‘baseball fans.'” @bowiesongs
January 22, 1974. One day before Aaron spoke at the Albion Sports Night at the Knights of Columbus Hall The Journal-Register (Medina, N.Y.) reported on his massive deal (at the time) with Magnavox.
The off-season was filled with anticipation, and it also held commercial opportunities. Though Aaron had received few promotional offers in his career, the television manufacturer Magnavox signed him in January 1974 to a five-year, $1 million contract in anticipation of his breaking Ruth’s record.
In this super charged atmosphere, bringing Hammerin’ Hank to a small town in western New York was remarkable.
From the early 1960’s to the late 1980’s the Albion Sports Night program attracted Hall of Fame caliber baseball and football stars, including Bob Feller in 1963, Brooks Robinson in 1966, Whitey Ford in 1968 and Mickey Mantle in 1972.
That’s Hittin’ It Big! ALBION Rich Monacelli of Albion has been organizing the Knights of Columbus’ annual sports night for 12 years and this year he’s pretty sure he’s scored a hit. Monacelli booked Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves, who ended last season one home run short of breaking Babe Ruth’s all-time record. Seven other athletes also are on the guest list. The response was so great that 500 tickets put on sale eight weeks ago were gone in three days. Of another 500 tickets available since then, 300 have been sold. Monacelli said this is the fourth year he tried to get Aaron to attend the event. And it took him 25 telephone calls this year “before it was really nailed down.” But after getting phone calls for tickets from as far away as Ithaca and Syracuse, he says, We’re getting better at this thing.”
After four years of trying, Richard Monacelli lured Aaron to the event, paying him a $3,500 fee along with expenses. (With inflation, today that price tag would be about $20,000, far below speaking fees today.) The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle covered the event on its front page and in the sports pages.
1/24/74 Democrat and Chronicle, p1 and p9
1/24/74 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle By LARRY BUMP D&C Sportswriter ALBION Remember these words from Bobby Thomson about the man who replaced him: “Magic is the only way to describe it. I mean you just had this feeling, even then, that this guy was something special. He was far removed from the ordinary class of ballplayers like the rest of us. Some of the fellows were a little skeptical, really, when in 1954 the Braves front office told us this young kid, Henry Aaron, would be in spring training with us.’ ‘ It has been 20 years since Aaron’s rookie season, and he’s finally being recognized. He’s the most marketable athlete around, and it’s somewhat amazing that he would appear in this Orleans County village. But the Knights of Columbus were persistent and willing to meet his reported $3,500 fee, and Albion became 1 of only 4 speaking engagements Aaron will make outside Atlanta this winter. “I could go to something every day if I wanted to, but I’d rather concentrate on staying in shape for playing baseball,” said Aaron, who will be 40 Feb. 5. Aaron never has made many off-season appearances, but he hasn’t always been in such great demand as he is now that he’s within one home run of Babe Ruth’s career baseball record. “Two or three years ago, the news media seemed to discover me because they figured I had a chance to catch Ruth,” Aaron says. “That was when Willie Stargell started hitting a lot of home runs, Mickey Mantle had retired and Harmon Killebrew started haying, aches and pains.” The reasons for his lack of recognition are that he has played in Milwaukee and Atlanta away from the national media centers, he never had one super season and he’s black, Aaron said. His best year for homers, 1971, he hit 47, but he has hit Aaron 30 or more 15 years. “I’ve been fortunate enough to stay away from injuries except a broken ankle, and when you’re second-best , you have to try harder,” Aaron said, explaining his success. “I never felt like I was second-best at anything, but for so long the press has been saying the best players were Mantle and Mays, and thea maybe they’d say Hank Aaron. “I don’t want people to compare me with anybody after I’ve retired. It’s silly to say, ‘Henry did this better than Willie and Ruth did this better than Aaron,’ ” he said. “I just want people to say I was a complete player, and the hell with the comparison. “If I break Ruth’s record, it will be hard for people to remember me as a complete ballplayer. The only thing they are going to think about think about are home runs. That’s all they think about, about Ruth They forget he was a great pitcher and he a .340 something average. Aaron said he’s not doing anything special to prepare for next season, which probably will be marked by his breaking the record and retiring after the season. But he hears about Ruth and the record everywhere. “The best thing is for me to get it over with as soon as I can,” he admitted. “I don’t look at it as a lot of pressure. I have a job to do just like last year. I don’t feel the same type of pressure Roger Maris had when he was breaking Ruth’s record for a season. “We’re two different types of people and it’s an entirely different situation. Playing in New York, he was constantly under pressure from sports writers, and he couldn’t handle it very well. I’ve been able to handle the press better, because I get a breather from their pressure whenever I’m in Atlanta. And I’ve been hitting homers for 19 years, but Roger had to do it all in 1 year,” Aaron continued. “If you want to know when I’ll break the record, I was with some astrologers in Rhode Island Tuesday, and one said I’d do it the third day of the season.” He continued, laughing, “I said that’s great, but we don’t play the third day of the season. If they want me to go out to some Little League park and set the record, I’ll do it.”
In his talk and in the interview with Larry Bump, Aaron did mention the racial obstacles he was overcoming, but mainly focused on comparisons between himself, Babe Ruth and Roger Maris who bested Ruth’s single season record in 1961.
January 24th, 1974 The Journal-Register (Medina, N.Y.) . From Richard Monacelli’s online obituary, 2011. “Richie with Hank Aaron, Rich Jr & Danny. Sports Night ’74”
In late December 1973, the D & C revisited the story. Monacelli said that getting Aaron to come when he was on the verge of tying Babe Ruth’s record “was something else.”
12/30/74 By ROBERT C. KRAUS ALBION – When you’ve brought Hank Aaron to Albion a few months before he matched Babe Ruth’s home-run record what do you do for an encore? That problem belongs to Richard Monacelli, chairman of the Knights of Columbus’ annual Sports Night. The club is holding its 13th annual Sports night at 8 p.m. Jan. 22 at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Route 31 in Albion. – This year’s keynote speaker will be Andy Russell, an all-pro linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Others will be Ferguson Jenkins, pitcher for the Texas Rangers; Ernie DiGregorio, of the Buffalo Braves; Reggie McKenzie, defensive tackle for the Buffalo Bills; Carmen Basilio, ex-middleweight world champion; and Don Allen, former state amateur golf champion. “It’s definitely not a letdown” from Aaron’s presence last year, Monacelli said, “although you might say we did outdo ourselves.” I still keep in mind that this is basically for the children here, The kids come for one thing to see the celebrity and get his autograph,” he said. “And it may sound corny, but these guys will come and give a message to these kids and they’ll listen to it. When they hear Russell, they’ll forget about Aaron again.” Monacelli has been coordinating the event since it started. And he usually starts working on the January banquet the summer before. “The only thing that’s really changed is the prices these guys ask,” he said. “Every year it’s getting more expensive, of course.” Last year, Aaron was asking $3,500 plus expenses for banquet appearances. Getting Aaron to come when he was on the verge of tying Babe Ruth’s record “was something else,” Monacelli said, smiling. “But you’ve got to get them when you can.” He said he expects about 500 people to come this year, an average size audience for the event. This year dinner won’t be served, he said, because of the expense and work involved. The annual “Athlete of the Year” award to a local student also will be made.
Aaron’s next visit was in 1977 when he was the Atlanta Braves’ director of player development, only one year after his retirement from the Milwaukee Brewers. In 1977, Aaron’s brother, Tommy, was the manager of the Richmond Braves, so the visit was a family reunion of sorts.
Democrat and Chronicle, 7/27/77 Is Hank Aaron the answer to the Rochester Red Wings’ continuing attendance woes? The Red Wings will try to find out Aug. 17 when baseball’s all-time home run leader makes his first appearance at Silver Stadium.
Democrat and Chronicle, 8/17/77
Democrat and Chronicle, 18 Aug 1977, The Rochester Red Wings played what manager Ken Boyer called “Hank Aaron’s song” last night. It sounded like a broken record home run, home run, home run, home run. With baseball’s home run king in a Silver Stadium crowd of 7,871, the Wings exploded for four of Aaron’s specialities and 18 hits in burying Richmond, 14-7.
As seen in the headline, “Lack of recognition still haunting Aaron,” Hank was more outspoken about the lack of respect and endorsements for black athletes.
In a 2007 article, Bob Matthews summarized Aaron’s visit.
Thirty years ago this week (Aug. 17, 1977), Atlanta Braves director of player development Hank Aaron was in Rochester to watch the Richmond Braves play the Red Wings. Prior to Rochester’s 14-7 victory before 7,871 fans at Silver Stadium (Mike Fiore hit 2 home runs and Larry Harlow had a grand-slam HR), Aaron addressed the media. His comments included: There was a lack of respect and endorsements for black athletes. He said it took “23 years and passing Babe Ruth’s career HR record to attain superstar status in mainstream America. Some white guys get it today in one or two years.” He was upset by a recent Sports Illustrated cover story on Sadaharu Oh, who was “challenging” Hank’s record of 755 HRs. Aaron said Oh could “hold his own” in the majors but “wouldn’t have as many homes runs.” He scoffed at the comparison and pointed out that the magazine devoted more pages to Oh’s bogus quest than he received for breaking Ruth’s career HR record: “When I broke the record, Sports Illustrated had me on the cover, but only two or three pages inside. Now you look up and there’s Oh on the cover, color photos, five pages on him.” He almost was a New York Giant. After the 1953 season, Milwaukee wanted to trade for veteran outfielder Bobby Thomson and asked for minor-league infielder Aaron. The Braves wouldn’t give up Aaron and instead included left-handed pitcher Johnny Antonelli in a package for Thomson, who broke his ankle in spring training and never was the same (Antonelli was an immediate star for New York and helped the Giants win the 1954 World Series, but he was no Aaron). He said the only active player he felt might top his 755 HRs was Boston’s Jim Rice. Rice was 24 years old at the time and finished the 1977 season with 87 career HRs. He had 382 HRs when he retired after the 1989 season.
Still director of player development for the Braves, Aaron made a low key trip to Silver Stadium on August 18th, 1982. Aaron’s trip was not announced to the crowd, but he chatted with the D&C‘s John Kolomic.
8/19/82 Democrat and Chronicle By John Kolomic The Richmond Braves hit town last night and paraded some of the best young ‘ talent in all of baseball before a Silver Stadium crowd of 7,157. They also brought along one very special guest one hidden from the crowd but most responsible for the fact that International League Rookie of the Year candidate Gerald Perry is wearing the powder blue Richmond uniform. That man would be Henry Aaron, “Hammerin’ Hank”, the man who hit more home runs than any other player in the history of major league baseball Aaron, inducted into the Hall of Fame Aug. 1, finished a 23-year playing career with 755 home runs before he retired after the 1976 season. Though Aaron’s major league accomplishments are known to virtually every baseball fan, his current impact on the game hardly is appreciated outside the Atlanta Braves chain. Since Oct 7, 1976, Aaron has been a , vice president and director of player development for the Atlanta Braves. The man who put Milwaukee and Atlanta on out there? the baseball map now is responsible for the development of players who strive to maintain the level of success recently attained in Atlanta. Though he shuns credit, it’s obvious Aaron has embarked on yet another successful career. Few would argue that the Atlanta chain is one of the most talent-laden from top to bottom. Only two of the current starters for Atlanta Chris Chambliss and Claudell Washington were not Braves draft choices. “I want to be the last one to take any credit,” Aaron said last night “All that starts with the scouts. Then the instructors get into the pit get their nails dirty, and work with these kids. ‘ “Once they’re signed, my job is to decide where they’ll play,” Aaron said. That can be a tricky business. Is this pitcher ready for Class AAA? Should this hitter start out in AA, or AAA, or, ala Bob Horner, go straight from a college campus to the big leagues? These are the decisions Aaron makes each year. He spends his time traveling from farm team to farm team, with occasional trips to the big club in Atlanta. Last night, his travels brought him to Rochester for a look at Richmond. Aaron insisted he’d rather be in Rochester than in Atlanta and managing the major league club against the Montreal Expos. “I could have been the manager in Atlanta, but I didn’t want it,” Aaron said. “I like the freedom of this job.” “I also get a thrill watching these kids grow up day by day,” Aaron said. “I think the farm system we have now is second to none.” Just like Aaron
Nine years later, Aaron returned to Silver Stadium on August 30th, 1986. This visit drew more attention as Aaron took a limousine from his hotel to the ballpark. In Frank Bilovsky’s article, Aaron compared his signing bonus to that of Bo Jackson.
August 31st, 1986, Silver Stadium, Rochester, NY Henry Aaron with Rochester Red Wing’s Ken Gerhart. D & C file photo
8/32/86 Democrat and Chronicle By Frank Bilovsky The limousine from the local hotel was waiting outside Silver Stadium, waiting for the greatest home-run hitter in the history of baseball to finish his press conference on the field. It wasn’t always that way for Hank Aaron. He still laughs when asked about his first contract in organized baseball. “I’ll tell you exactly what I got,” he said. “Two hundred dollars and a suitcase. The suitcase gave him the opportunity to pack for a trip. The money made sure he wasn’t going too far. Hank Aaron “1 had spent half a year with the Indianapolis Clowns,” Aaron said, recalling a team in the Negro Leagues. “Then 1 spent a year and a half in the minor leagues. Thank goodness! With the Clowns I got $2-a-day meal money. If it hadn’t been for the minor leagues, I would have starved to death.” Hank Aaron never starved, but enough pitchers who attempted to make a living keeping him in the ballpark did. He was one of those guys who was “rushed” to the majors early, with less than two minor-league seasons under his belt. He had just turned 20 and everybody in baseball agreed that a full year at the Triple-A level in 1954 would put the finishing touches on a great prospect. But fate t brought otherwise. The Milwaukee Braves had made a big deal for Bobby Thomson, whose home run on the final day of the 1951 season won the pennant for the New York Giants. But Thomson broke his ankle sliding into third base in spring training, so the kid from Mobile, Ala., became a big-league regular. And the Indianapolis Crowns got the other half of their money a little earlier than expected. “The Braves paid them $5,000 for my contract,” Aaron remembered, “but they didn’t get it all right away. The Braves gave them $2,500 when I reported to the minors and told .them they would pay them the other $2,500 when I made the majors.” That first year, Aaron played 122 games, batted .280 and hit 13 home runs. The figures weren’t startling, but what the heck. The guy wasn’t old enough to vote yet and there he was in the big leagues and the first player listed in the Baseball Register. When his career ended 22 years later, he was the first player listed in the record book in several categories, including games played, RBI and home runs. In April, 1974, ironically enough, the guy who got his first chance because of an injury to the man who hit The Shot Heard ‘Round the World slugged The Shot Heard ‘Round The Galaxy. No. 715. Move over, Babe. He finished with 755 home runs and, five years after he retired, Aaron was inducted into the Hall of Fame despite his absence on a handful of ballots. He was a signing bargain by anyone’s standards, an outright steal by today’s comparisons and, until he broke Ruth’s record, he was largely underpublicized and underpaid. But, then again, Hank Aaron never won the Heisman Trophy. Bo Jackson did. When he was a kid, Aaron was a triple threat. He could hit the ball, throw it and catch it. Jackson could do all those things with a ball, plus run with it, kick it, fair-catch it, slam dunk it and presumably convert the baby split with it. “Myself, the only football I ever played was sandlot football,” Aaron said. “As far as playing in the pros, it was baseball or nothing.” If you wanted to remain in good standing with the community in the early 1950s, it was baseball or nothing. Television had little influence at the time and professional football was considered a step above semi-pro. Bill Russell was a collegian on the West Coast and Wilt Chamberlain was in high school on the East Coast, so pro basketball hadn’t been ingested by the masses yet. Nowadays, though, those sports are competing for the super athlete. Baseball no longer has the right of first and only refusal. And Aaron, in his current position as the Atlanta Braves vice president in charge of development, knows what it takes to recruit a prospect these days. And it’s not a couple of $100 bills and a carry-on bag. “If you could look deep, and I mean really deep, you’d find out that Bo Jackson got a very large amount of money,” Aaron said. Not that Hammerin’ Hank doesn’t think he’s worth it. “I scouted him and I liked him,” Aaron said. “I figured it would take him some time to get back into baseball. In fact, I didn’t think he’d be playing as well as he is so soon. I was surprised they started him off in that Southern Association. That’s darn near a Triple-A league. Look at the kid (Red Wings’ Eric Bell) who pitched here the other night. He came here from that league and never missed a beat.” Aaron said that baseball had its ways of convincing Jackson to pick its sport over the National Football League. “We’re able to talk about our pension plan and about longevity,” he said. “Plus, if Jackson signed with Tampa Bay, he wasn’t going to one of the top teams in the league.” In baseball, Jackson signed with the defending World Champion Kansas City Royals for a bundle of up-front money and the chance for lifetime security. And he won’t come close to starving while he’s learning in the minors. “But don’t get me wrong,” Aaron said, thinking back to his signing bonus. “I wouldn’t have traded my exposure for anything in the world. I’m not one bit bitter about anything.”
August 30th, 1996, Democrat and Chronicle. On the day of the last game at Silver Stadium, then 16 year old Brian P. Wilkins offered his memory of Aaron’s 1986 visit.
Henry Aaron at Silver Stadium, 8/30/86 From Scott Pitoniak’s facebook page
April 8th, 1974 at 9:07 p.m. is one of those dates and times every baseball fan knows where they were.
I watched the game with my father. As seen in On Yogi Berra and Dale Berra and the 1973 World Series and Willie Mays and my father, 1973 was my first season as a baseball fan. As a new fan, Aaron’s chase was as riveting as Sosa and McGuire’s quest for 62 home runs in 1998. I still cleary recall what seemed like Al Downing’s grooved pitch down the middle that Aaron launched over the fence to be caught by the Braves’ reliever Tom House.
I remember the two men crashing the gates to embrace Aaron near second base. The iconic photo of Aaron circling the bases was taken by RIT alumnus, Ron Sherman ’64
“This image of Hank Aaron rounding the bases after home run No. 715 was taken by Ron Sherman ’64 (photography). The home run broke Babe Ruth’s record.” From RIT alumnus behind iconic baseball photo 4/7/2019 (RIT News)
On Yogi Berra and Dale Berra and the 1973 World Series and Willie Mays and my father
Mt. Morris’s Roscoe Barnes was the Joe Morgan of his era
Remembering Richard Anthony Allen (March 8, 1942 – December 7, 2020), Feared Slugger Who Stood Up to Bigotry
Frank Robinson (1935 – 2019) and a glove signed at the 1988 Orioles-Red Wings exhibition game