As you probably recall, the Braves plans to relocate to Cobb County in 2017 have angered many in Atlanta, and this week a dispute over ownership of Turner Field’s iconic Hank Aaron statue came to light. “If the Cobb County Braves want to honor Aaron with a different statue, that’s fine and dandy,” writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Mark Bradley. “But not this statue. This statue should belong, forever and ever, to Atlanta.”
The statue in question doesn’t just capture Henry Louis Aaron taking a swing. It captures him taking The Swing. At 9:06 p.m. on April 8, 1974, Aaron lashed Al Downing’s 1-0 fastball over the fence in left-center. It was his 715th home run, moving him ahead of Babe Ruth. (Guessing you knew all that already.) The bronze statue replicates the famous photos snapped just after impact: We see the bat’s follow-through; we see Aaron’s eyes cast skyward, tracking the flight of what he knew already was the long-awaited clout.
We see, in sum, a snippet in time that – even at 9:06 that Monday night – we all knew would be remembered as long as time is counted on this third rock from the sun. We see what was and remains the greatest moment in the history of Atlanta sports, one of the handful of greatest moments in the history of Atlanta.
It was a moment authored by a Brave, but more than that it was a moment authored by a black man who worked in Atlanta, the city where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born and rose to prominence and is buried. Had Eddie Mathews, say, been the Brave who overtook the Babe, it would have been a great sports feat. Because it was Aaron, an African-American against whom some had rooted because he was African-American, it was bigger than sports, greater than great. It was perfect.