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How Hank Aaron rewarded a childhood plea to stay up late

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The negotiations were simple: I begged.

“No,” they said.

I pleaded.

“Nope,” they replied.

I bargained: Let me stay up until 9 o’clock, and I’ll go to bed a half-hour earlier tomorrow. Swear to God!

“A half-hour tonight in exchange for a half-hour tomorrow. You’ll shake on it?” my father asked, overruling the far more draconian leanings of my mother — to whom an 8:30 bedtime for a generally hyper 7-year-old boy seemed perfectly reasonable.

I extended my hand. My father shook it. So it was that on the evening of April 8, 1974, inside the modest house at 669 Thrush Avenue, West Hempstead, a deal was struck: I would be allowed to stay up past my bedtime to watch two Hank Aaron at-bats on a night when a Braves-Dodgers baseball game would be televised on Channel 4.

I was too young to know just how much leverage I really had. My father had begun to fret that I would be impervious to baseball. He would try and get me interested, try and convince me to watch Yankees and Mets games alongside him, and it just never took. I was more into Charlie Brown, Batman, the Brady Bunch, that kind of thing.

“Maybe he just doesn’t like baseball,” my mother told him once.

He would say later he’d just come to terms with that awful possibility when a remarkable thing happened: The Mets qualified for the playoffs in the fall of 1973. The day they beat the Reds for the NLCS, home from work on a medical leave, he met me at my bus stop and together we walked home and he put the final few innings on the TV.

And something amazing clicked that day:

Suddenly, I got it. Suddenly, I was filled with questions. Suddenly, as I watched grown men pour champagne on each other, I became obsessed. I wanted to know everything my father knew. This is the way my father explained it years later:

“I played the number every day. I played the lottery. And I never won it. And then one day, my son became a baseball freak. Overnight. All you cared about was baseball, morning noon and night. To me, it was like winning the number and the lottery on the same day.”

So there we were, six months later. Part of my initiation was hearing my father, lifelong Yankees fan, explain who Babe Ruth was, and why he was an important man, and why what Henry Aaron was trying to do in breaking the all-time home run record was so amazing. I absorbed all of it. I was far too young to understand the social ramifications of what Aaron was trying to do, and it wasn’t my father’s way to make that part of the story anyway.

It was just obvious how incredible this moment was.

“You don’t get to witness history with your own eyes very often,” he told me, as we settled in front of the TV screen. I remember believing with all my heart that Hank would clobber the first ball he saw that night. He didn’t. Al Downing, pitching for the Dodgers, walked him. This caused a dilemma. Soon, 9 o’clock rolled around. A deal’s a deal. But my dad could read my mind.

“You get one more at-bat,” he said, knowing Aaron would hit in the bottom of the fourth.

And so it was. In The Post the next afternoon, the great Vic Ziegel would pinpoint the moment history arrived at Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium, and also at 669 Thrush Avenue: 9:06 p.m. Downing threw a fastball. Aaron crushed it. A Dodgers outfielder named Bill Buckner tried to climb the wall but the ball just eluded his mitt (story of the poor man’s career, as it would turn out). It landed in the mitt of a Braves pitcher named Tom House, who sprinted to Aaron to give him the prized ball.

I’m not quite sure how much of that is what I remember or what I’ve seen through the years, watching all of that on tape, watching the two white kids join Aaron at second base (before they were scared off the basepaths by third-base ump Lee Weyer), watching the crowd at home plate (look carefully and you’ll see the young Craig Sager there, in addition to Atlanta’s mascot, Chief Noc-A-Homa).

This much I do know: I went to bed that night as satisfied as I’d ever been. I’d seen history with my own eyes. I’d grow up and be lucky enough to have a job where that would happen all the time. But that was the first time. Hank Aaron did that for me.

Vac’s Whacks

If there’s ever a moment when you, a Jets or a Giants fan, think you obsess too much over Sam Darnold or Daniel Jones and whether they are capable of being The Man or not, simply think about the roster of quarterbacks we get to watch Sunday: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen. It is impossible to obsess about QBs too much.


Hanke Aaron once confided in fellow Mobile, Ala., native Tommie Agee that he was thinking of retiring before catching Babe Ruth because of all the vitriol surrounding the pursuit. Agee, one of the great Mets ever, talked him out of that. Jay Horwitz, wizard of all things Mets, points out that Agee died Jan. 22, 2001 — exactly 20 years to the day before Aaron passed Friday.


I am still perfectly delighted to watch Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin develop into NBA players, but if you watched the Knicks-Kings game Friday night you certainly have to wonder how the Knicks, and a bunch of other teams, allowed Tyrese Haliburton to fall all the way to No. 12 in the draft.

Tyrese Haliburton
AP

I have a very strong feeling that Eddie Burns’ “Bridge and Tunnel,” premiering Sunday at 9 p.m. on Epix, is going to quickly become destination viewing every week.

Whack Back at Vac

Kevin Bryant: I wish we could all hear the conversation in heaven between Hank Aaron and Roger Maris about how to do one’s best despite being bombarded with hatred.

Vac: And you know what else? I’d like to think Babe Ruth was at that table, too, telling both men that records were made to be broken, and he couldn’t have hand-picked two better men to break his two most cherished records.


Jerry Briffa: In regards to Robert Saleh, being a team guy and getting paid are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are two sides of the same coin.

Vac: Since athletes started getting paid, I think managers and coaches have understood that. It’s only lately that they’re OK saying it out loud.


@jodysjody: I’m not sure where the Knicks are headed this year, but for the first time in a while they are fun to watch.

@MikeVacc: One of the amusing parts of this season is how weary Tom Thibodeau seems to be growing of this part of coaching a team on a learning curve. Which is OK. We’ve been here a lot longer than he has. Our expectations have to be different.


Richard Siegelman: Robert Saleh said, “The entire Jets organization … will all find a way to get somewhat better …” For a team that began this season 0-13, shouldn’t he, at the very least, have promised fans that the Jets will get “much?”

Vac: Looks like he’s seen the roster.

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