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Sports Then and Now



44 Years Ago: Number 44 Became Number 1 1

Posted on April 08, 2018 by Dean Hybl
Hank Aaron being celebrated after hitting career home run number 715 on April 8, 1974

Hank Aaron being celebrated after hitting career home run number 715 on April 8, 1974

It was 44 years ago today, April 8, 1974, that Hank Aaron, wearing number 44 for the Atlanta Braves, broke the seemingly unbreakable home run record of Babe Ruth with his 715th career home run.

In the decades since, the home run in baseball has lost some of its individual luster as juiced balls, juiced bats and juiced people (not to mention shrunken ballparks) have made the home run a much more common occurrence than in past generations.

However, that “cheapening” of the home run has in some ways elevated the realization of just how amazing it was for Aaron to amass more than 700 home runs despite playing much of his career during a time when baseball wasn’t geared to make it easier to hit home runs.

Few players have displayed the long-term consistency of greatness that Aaron compiled during his career. From 1955 through 1973 (19 years), he finished in the top 17 in the National League MVP voting every year, including 13 times in the top 10 and winning the award in 1957.

He led the National League in home runs four times and blasted 40 or more home runs in a season eight times. He hit a career-high 47 at the age of 37 in 1971 and two years later hit 40 home runs in just 120 games.

While his total of 755 career home runs has technically been passed, Aaron is still recognized by many as the Home Run King. His 2,297 career RBIs and 6,856 total bases are still the highest totals in Major League history. Not to mention, he finished his career with 3,771 career hits and a .305 career batting average.

In celebration of the 44th anniversary of his record-setting home run, check out videos of that blast as well as Aaron’s career.

 

Read the rest of this entry →

40 Years Ago: Hank Aaron Becomes Baseball’s Home Run King 9

Posted on April 07, 2014 by Dean Hybl
It was 36 years ago this week that Hank Aaron became the all-time home run king.

It was 40 years ago that Hank Aaron became the all-time home run king.

Given how much emphasis sports put on championships, it may seem a little strange that the most significant home run in Major League Baseball history was not hit during the month of October, but instead was struck in early April by an aging player on a team that wouldn’t come close to reaching the postseason.

Such was the case 40 years ago, on April 8, 1974, when Hank Aaron forever cemented a place for himself in baseball lore with his record breaking 715th home run.

Every die-hard sports fan has a number of moments that are forever etched in their subconscious memory – to the point that even years after the fact they can recall not just the special moment, but also where they were and what they were doing at the time.

Though I was only six-years old, the night when Aaron set the home run record is one of those moments for me.

My family was paying special attention to the record because we had family friends who were from Atlanta and thus big fans of Aaron and the Braves. “Hammerin’ Hank” had tied the record during the season opener in Cincinnati and there seemed to be little doubt that he was going to set the record during the home opener, which was being shown on national television by ABC. However, for a while there was some doubt whether we would be able to see it.

It was a stormy Monday night in my hometown of Keysville, Virginia, thanks to a powerful early spring thunderstorm that brought lightning, thunder and heavy rains. There was no such thing as cable television in our town in 1974 and because we were about 75 miles from the closest television station, even with having an antenna on the roof we never really had crystal clear reception. The general practice at that time was also to unplug the television during electrical storms so that the TV wouldn’t get zapped. Read the rest of this entry →

Enough With the Sideshow, Time For The MLB Playoffs 0

Posted on October 06, 2012 by Dean Hybl

A blown umpire call let the St. Louis Cardinals get away with a major blunder in the eighth inning on their way to defeating the Atlanta Braves in the Wild Card Playoff Game.

Even after nearly eight hours of baseball, one of the worst calls in playoff history, uneven play by every team and victories by the two road teams, it is still hard to know exactly what to make of the first “Wild Card Day” in Major League Baseball history.

Since in the old playoff system the Orioles and Rangers, who were tied with records of 93-69, would have been meeting in a one-game playoff, there really was just one game that was added to the playoff schedule in the new format. And while there was some excitement, there was also controversy and ultimately a team having their season end in a one game showdown despite finishing six games better than the other team during the 162 game regular season.

For the Atlanta Braves, it marks the second straight year that they have been edged out of a trip to the LDS by the St. Louis Cardinals. However, unlike in 2011 when the Cardinals used a month-long Braves collapse to sneak ahead of them in the standings, this time they did it with a head-to-head wild card victory.

Some have used the awful infield fly call in the eighth inning as justification as to why you need more than a one game “winner take all” playoff to determine which team will advance. The thinking being that over time breaks even out and seasons shouldn’t be decided on one questionable call.

I understand the argument, but the reality is that while the eighth inning call will go down as one of the worst umpiring mistakes in playoff history (whether MLB wants to acknowledge it or not), there were many other instances that contributed to the Braves’ loss. The atypical fourth inning error by future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones directly led to three runs and erased an early 2-0 Braves lead. The Braves made three errors during the game and only two of the six runs given up were credited as “earned runs.” Read the rest of this entry →

Ten Sports Dynasties That Might Have Been 25

Posted on December 07, 2011 by Jena Ellis

Despite having many of the top stars in Major League Baseballs, the Brooklyn Dodgers won only one World Series title.

Now that the 2011-12 NBA season will happen, sports prognosticators will return to projecting how many championships the Miami Heat will win. Forget about the disappointment of last season — this team has more than enough talent to bring home at least a few Larry O’Brien Trophies, right? That’s what people were saying about the Lakers in the ’60s, Mets in the ’80s, and Mariners in the ’90s (different trophies for the latter two, of course), yet they wound up with just two championships between them when all was said and done. The following would-be dynasties failed to meet expectations for a multitude of reasons — including injuries, team chemistry problems, free agency, drugs, and even a strike — leaving fans wondering what might have been had things gone a little differently.

1940s and ’50s Brooklyn Dodgers
Even if the Dodgers had won multiple World Series titles during this era, the franchise would’ve been more remembered for its role in integrating baseball by signing and promoting Jackie Robinson. More than just an inspiring figure in the Civil Rights Movement, Robinson was an ideal second baseman with tremendous speed, excellent contact ability, and exemplary defense. He played alongside Hall of Famers Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Don Drysdale, and Sandy Koufax, one of the most talent-rich rosters in baseball history. From 1947 to 1956, the team won six NL pennants and the 1955 World Series, a resume worthy of NL dynasty status, but not MLB dynasty status.

1960s and ’70s Los Angeles Lakers
Before the Buffalo Bills, there were the Lakers. Sure, they had already won four of the first 10 NBA championships, but, with seven Finals losses in nine seasons during the 1960s and ’70s, they were the original poster child for second best. The primary culprit for their failures was the Celtics, who reeled off a remarkable 11 championships in 13 seasons. The Lakers also faced a 76ers team with perhaps the most dominant player off all time, Wilt Chamberlain, and a hungry Knicks team led by Willis Reid and Walt Frazier. When management figured out the mere presence of Jerry West and Elgin Baylor wasn’t enough, it added an older but still effective Chamberlain. The team finally got over the hump in 1973, after Baylor retired and Gail Goodrich had been added to the roster. Read the rest of this entry →

Rays Win to Cap Baseball’s Wildest Night 13

Posted on September 29, 2011 by Dean Hybl

Evan Longoria and the Tampa Bay Rays came from seven runs down in the final game of the regular season to make the playoffs.

Before this season, in the history of Major League Baseball no team had ever missed the playoffs after leading by eight games or more in September. Thanks to a trio of shocking comebacks on the final night of the 2011 season, it has now happened twice.

The Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves have been two of the most successful baseball franchises of the last two decades, but they now are both going to be remembered for years to come for their epic collapses to end the 2011 season.

For a baseball fan, it is hard to imagine a night with more excitement than was seen on September 28th. On a night that perfectly epitomized the last month of the season for the Red Sox, Braves, Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals, there were emotion shifts nearly every minute as teams tried to stake their claim to a playoff berth.

Rays Rally While Red Sox Fade
On September 3rd the Tampa Bay Rays were nine games behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL Wild Card race. The Rays won 17 of their final 24 games and benefitted from the Red Sox dropping 20 of their final 26 to pull off a shocking comeback.

But it was the final comeback that was perhaps the most impressive. The Rays and Red Sox entered the final night of the season tied for the Wild Card lead.

Things didn’t look good for the Rays early as David Price allowed seven runs over the first four innings as the New York Yankees jumped to a huge early lead. With the Red Sox leading the Baltimore Orioles by a run, it looked like the Rays had to hope for a Baltimore comeback just to secure a one-game playoff.

Then, a funny thing happened on the way to a long offseason. The Rays rallied for six runs in the eighth inning, capped by a three-run home run by Evan Longoria, and then tied the game in the bottom of the ninth with a home run by Dan Johnson (his second of the season).

While this was happening, the Red Sox seemed headed to victory as they maintained their 3-2 lead over the Orioles into the ninth inning. When Jonathan Papelbon struck out the first two batters, it appeared that at the very least, the Red Sox would be playing the Rays in a one-game playoff on Thursday in St. Petersburg.

But suddenly, the Orioles started to rally. Back to back doubles by Chris Davis and Nolan Reimold tied the game and then Robert Andino capped the comeback with a single to rightfield that brought home Reimold with the winning run. Read the rest of this entry →

Major League Baseball’s Wild Card Wednesday 17

Posted on September 28, 2011 by Anderson Melvin

Jacoby Ellsbury and the Boston Red Sox have hit a lot of walls during their attempt to secure a 2011 playoff spot.

Popular alternative-rock band, Green Day, had a platinum hit single titled “Wake Me Up When September Ends” off of their American Idiot album in 2005. While the song may have debuted in June of 2005, it has become popular now more than ever. At least in the cities of Boston and Atlanta.

Sheer misery, agony, and torture wouldn’t even begin to describe the pain that the fans of these two historically reputable teams have had to endure over the past twenty-seven days. The month has been a, for lack of a better word, curse to the Red Sox and Braves, something Boston is far too familiar with and something Atlanta wants no part of. September has handed the Braves and Red Sox a combined 36 losses and taken near double-digit leads in both wild-card races away from each team.

On the other side of the equation, there’s the Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals. With a lot of the talk coming from how poorly the Red Sox have played, much credit is due to Tampa Bay, who has gone 16-8 since being down 9 games to Boston on September 2. The Rays have baseball fanatics around the country wondering how they’ve managed to battle their way back into a tie with Boston for the wild-card. The answer is simple. They believe they can win it.

“There’s a real strong believability about what we’re trying to accomplish right now but when you get to this point, you really want to finish things off,” said manager Joe Maddon.

Rays players, fans, and coaches are all going to need to keep that belief up for one maybe even two more days if they want to make it to the postseason. Read the rest of this entry →

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  • Vintage Athlete of the Month

    • Bill Freehan: Michigan Man
      May 12, 2018 | 6:21 pm

      The Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month was an 11-time American League All-Star at one of the most demanding positions in baseball, yet outside of Detroit his exploits have been largely forgotten.

      For more than a decade, Bill Freehan was the rock behind home plate for the Detroit Tigers. In addition to earning All-Star honors 10 straight years and 11 times overall, Freehan was a five-time Gold Glove winner and in 1968 finished second in the American League in the MVP voting.

      A true “Michigan Man”, Freehan played his entire sports career representing teams from Michigan.

      Read more »

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