LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — A former Dodgers pitcher will forever be attached to the hip with Hank Aaron, giving up the home run that broke Babe Ruth’s record in 1974.
“You give it the best you have and some days it’s good enough and other days it’s not.”
There are no regrets for former Yankees and Dodgers pitcher Al Downing who gave up the homer. His focus was on winning the ballgame.
“You never went out there with a preconceived notion that you had one way to pitch him. It’s going to be hard enough getting him out,” he said.
Downing considered Aaron an adversary on the field, but a man he deeply respected in the sport.
“He was a competitor I looked up to and more importantly told me early in my career that I can be a mentor if you ever need me,” Downing said.
What perhaps distinguished Aaron as a ballplayer to Downing was his humility.
“When Henry hit a home run, he went around the bases, and he went around the bases. He wasn’t trying to show up the pitcher, the catcher or anyone,” he said.
Downing says Aaron will continue to be an inspiration, not just in baseball but across the sports community.
“He’s been a trailblazer for a lot of young people. Whether you’re an athlete or just a person going about in a business. It’s all about the dedication, discipline and perseverance,” he said.
“He came over and he congratulated me, and I got choked up. I got so excited.”
That’s the power Hank Aaron had on his fellow ballplayers.
14-year MLB veteran Bill Madlock remembers his time sharing the field at the 1975 All-Star Game. Madlock says chills went down his spine when Aaron passed Babe Ruth on the home run list.
He believes Aaron’s consistent success with the bat will be difficult to match.
“Hank put up tremendous stats in an unbearable situation,” he said.
A situation where for much of Aaron’s career involved navigating racism and segregation. Madlock marveled at his composure under unfathomable stress.
“You had to be a little quieter than they are now in what they went through. I don’t know if I went through what they went through and get the major leagues and still be able to perform,” he said.
Madlock says after Aaron broke the home run record, he remembers him saying this about his achievement.
“He said. ‘I don’t want you to forget Babe Ruth. I just want you to remember Hank Aaron,’” he said.
Aaron has since been surpassed by Barry Bonds on the home run list and depending on how you feel about the steroid era, some view Hank Aaron as still being the true home-run king.