714. Everybody knew the number. You didn’t have to be a baseball fan
to be able to recite the number 714 as the career home run total for
Babe Ruth. The number mocked all those who had hit more than nine dozen
homers in their career. How could any mere mortal hit 714 home runs in
Then, one day, a guy named Hammerin’ Hank knocked one
over the wall to hit number 715. The new home run king was Henry Aaron.
That happened 40 years ago this past week. I remember being a middle
schooler watching the TV coverage and realizing I was watching history.
It was a time most everybody celebrated together. (Well, except for some
ignorant racists.) April 8, 1974. We may not remember the exact date,
but we remember what happened and watching history.
five years prior to number 715. On July 20, 1969 we heard that the Eagle
had landed and soon there were two men walking around on the surface of
the moon. We all celebrated together. (Well, except for a few
Russians.) The moon had been conquered, and we marveled that the
challenge had been answered. We remember what happened and the fact that
we watched history.
In both instances there were huge
celebrations of amazing accomplishments. But I’ve been alive since 1961,
and I can’t seem to think of any other occasions like that. Don’t get
me wrong. I can think of plenty of those historic moments — monuments in
time. You know, the occasions when everyone remembers where they were.
The explosion of the Challenger, Columbine, 9/11, and other such events
are tragedies, not celebrations. Others that I considered were the
freeing of the hostages in Iran in 1980, the end of World War II, and
even the capture/death of Osama bin Laden. While all these were
celebrations the celebrations we for the end of something bad, not
simply for something good.
There are private or celebrations for
part of the population, but a (mostly) universal happy memorable day is
rare. Personally, I celebrated the Bears Super Bowl victory in early
1986, but I don’t think New England fans were thrilled about that. Most
things sports-related are like that. But Hammerin’ Hank taking an Al
Downing pitch over the wall started a real celebration. It is true that
there were anti-Hank Aaron folks who didn’t like the color of his skin
or just wanted Babe Ruth to hold the record forever, but I would call
those people insignificant or just plain ignorant. There were probably a
few people who didn’t want any footprints on the moon too.
suppose the point of all this is that we seem to remember tragedy better
than we remember joy. I suppose that makes sense since it seems we like
to complain more than we appreciate what we have. It’s a natural
condition. People are quick to complain about their hometown and very
slow to appreciate the positive. We can enviously obsess over the
neighbor’s new car rather than be thankful for our own set of wheels.
known a person who got free concert tickets as a gift then openly
complained that the seats weren’t on the level he wanted. And if you
think, you probably know someone who would complain that the gift of a
new car wasn’t the right color. We should appreciate and celebrate the
good, especially that good which affects us all.
Forty years ago, a
baseball traveled over the left field wall and the crowd that had come
anticipating a celebration followed through. They celebrated the
accomplishment of a 40-year-old man who began a baseball career in the
Negro Leagues and who had finally beaten the record many thought would
never be broken. He had endured harassment and death threats from racist
bigots in addition to the pressure of chasing the legacy of Babe Ruth.
Why wouldn’t you celebrate a man like that?
There are stories of
other heroes today. Servicemen, cancer survivors, businessmen,
philanthropists… people from all walks of life. This weekend why don’t
we all forget our complaints and the bad things that we obsess about,
and instead find a reason to celebrate. Then celebrate. Be joyful.