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Al Downing, the Pitcher for Home Run No. 715, Reflects on Hank Aaron

What I heard from Scully was somebody replaying those quips, those sound bites. But he was absolutely right in what he was saying. It was unusual because you weren’t too far past the time when the races couldn’t mix on the athletic field. When I say we weren’t too far past, I’m talking about like ’68, ’69. That’s how recent. So all of a sudden, you looked in ’74 and you have this Black guy here in Atlanta, and you have all these white people in the stands standing up and clapping for him. It was totally unheard-of.

When you think about all that, how do you sum up Aaron’s legacy?

It shows you how great an impact not only sports, but also the sportsmen, the person carrying the message, can have on society and trying to bridge that gap that exists between cultures. He definitely personified that. He did it with such dignity, such grace, and it wasn’t like, “Oh, I showed you I could do this.” He showed ’em with his bat and with his legs and with his glove.

How did your relationship with him evolve in your retirements? How well did you guys get to know each other?

He was the same guy. He hadn’t changed. You could tell, same grace, dignity. We never talked about the game. We never talked about that evening. We talked about how the game had evolved.

Do you have any favorite memories of Aaron?

Just the way he comported himself all the time without being overbearing.

At the reunion we had in ’84, we were sitting at the table at lunch and there were a bunch of writers there, and they were asking us questions. One writer decides he’s going to fire a couple digs at me. So he says, “Hey, Al, Henry really wore you out, didn’t he?” So Hank says: “Wait a minute. No, no, no. Al was a darn good pitcher. He was not a guy you took lightly when you went up there. You knew he was going to battle you. He was a great adversary.”

The guy shut up real, real quick.

There’s an interview with Sandy Koufax in which he said he could never come up with a game plan against Aaron. Did you ever think you had one?

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