Milo tied to Aaron through iconic homer call
Former Braves voice didn't prepare what to say; pair became friends
HOUSTON -- The radio call, like the swing, was nothing short of perfection. Milo Hamilton hadn't rehearsed what he was going to say and really hadn't had much time to prepare for what would turn out to be the most recognizable call of his legendary career.
As Hank Aaron's record-breaking 715th home run sailed over the wall at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium 40 years ago today, a veteran broadcaster made a call for the ages and forever became linked to the man who would become known as baseball's Home Run King.
Hamilton was in the booth on April 8, 1974, when the Braves slugger broke Babe Ruth's all-time home run record against the Dodgers, sending an Al Downing pitch over the left-field wall. Hamilton, 46 years old at the time, was the play-by-play announcer for WSB Radio in Atlanta when he delivered his famous call.
"Here's the pitch by Downing. Swinging. There's a drive into left-center field. That ball is going to be ... out of here! It's gone! It's 715! There's a new home run champion of all-time! And it's Henry Aaron!"
The call still resonates with baseball fans around the country 40 years later, and it remains a vivid memory for Hamilton, who retired from calling Astros games following the 2012 season after more than 55 years in the Major Leagues. He's still active at 86 doing radio spots and making appearances around Houston.
"I don't know where those 40 years went," Hamilton said Tuesday. "I still remember the day as clear as it were yesterday."
The day was a busy one for Hamilton, considering it was the Braves' home opener. He made an appearance on the local afternoon television news before leaving for the ballpark. Hamilton introduced the teams on the field prior to the game and did a pregame interview.
There were dignitaries galore, ranging from entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. to actress and singer Pearl Bailey to then-governor of Georgia and future President Jimmy Carter, all there to see Aaron take a shot at Ruth's record. And there were countless ears tuned to the radio to hear a piece of history.
"I didn't have a chance to get nervous about what I was going to say," Hamilton said. "I figured the home run would take care of it."
The Braves will recognize the 40th anniversary of Aaron's historic 715th home run before Tuesday's home opener against the Mets, but Hamilton isn't able to travel anymore and can't attend. He'll mark the anniversary by having dinner with his son, Mark, in Houston and doing numerous interviews about the event.
That night 40 years ago was as special for Hamilton as it was for Aaron because of the significance of the event. Ruth's record of 714 homers was thought to be unbreakable, and Hamilton said having an African-American surpass Ruth with a home run in the south was a landmark cultural event -- one that brought Aaron hate mail and racists threats.
"I grew up in the '30s when Ruth was the biggest thing, not only in sports but in the country and the world," Hamilton said. "He himself thought 60 homers [in a season] would be broken because Hank Greenberg, Hack Wilson and Jimmie Foxx came close. He personally thought 714 was here to stay.
"When Aaron announced in '72 he was going for it, some eyebrows got lifted. That started the media onslaught everywhere he went. We didn't know what was going on at the time about all the vicious hate mail. We found that out afterwards. It was a real media circus for two years because everybody wanted a piece of him."
Aaron would hit 40 more home runs the remainder of his career, which concluded where it began, in Milwaukee, during a two-year stint with the Brewers, who came into existence five years after the Braves moved to Atlanta.
Aaron's record of 755 career home runs was bested in 2007 by Barry Bonds, who finished with 762 homers and has been one of the most scrutinized players to have played during the era of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.
Meanwhile, Hamilton and Aaron have remained friends, a bond forged by baseball and history.
Astros owner Jim Crane flew Aaron to Houston in October 2012 to attend Hamilton's retirement dinner at Minute Maid Park. Hamilton said the slugger was pleased with the radio call and has expressed that to him throughout the years.
"That means a lot to me," Hamilton said. "I've stayed close to Henry and he wasn't able to come to my induction for the Ford Frick Award at Cooperstown [in 1992], but he sent me a telegram. When I would go to Atlanta, we'd get together and talk. It's been a good relationship."