Friday, November 23, 2012

Hammering Henry Aaron may have been impatient with a lot of folks, but he had plenty of time for a damn nice News Brother

"When Newspapers Mattered: the News Brothers & their Shades of Glory" is a fine book that isn't just for journalists. It goes far beyond "inside baseball" of the death of newspapers. There's some real baseball -- and a lot of great (and some not-great) people we meet along the way. Here's a snippet from one chapter featuring Hammerin' Henry Aaron, a hellluva guy, and me, a damn nice guy.
Few of the people I’ve met left as strong an image in my brain as Henry Aaron.
I remember him as kind of surly, at least on first meeting. I mean I liked him and he liked me.

Of course, I guess I didn’t blame him for coming off that way. After all, here was the greatest ballplayer of all time having to pimp himself out to sell Magnavox televisions in a small Southern city.
And anyone who knows anything about Henry Aaron knows he often had less-than wondrous times in Southern cities … including, of course, Atlanta.
I think it was the autumn of 1976, after he finished up his short “homecoming” stint with the Milwaukee Brewers.  The new Magnavox dealer, out on the south end of Clarksville, called to say “Hank” was coming to sign autographs, I believe for a grand-opening.  

Of course, the great home run king was getting paid by Magnavox.  Still, it was kind of disconcerting to me, as a guy who went to Atlanta to see his last game in Fulton County Stadium a couple years prior, to see this rather unassuming fellow in a sport coat standing over glistening walnut-cabinets containing the best TVs on the planet … or at least the best ones he was hawking.
Still it was Henry Aaron, and I called him “Mr. Aaron,” when I approached. I was unprofessional in that I had a poster, with its illustration of him arm-in-arm with Babe Ruth – “Brotherhood of Excellence” was written beneath the illustration – out in the car.

His surliness went away as my old smile and interest in humans, particularly home run kings gained on him.  At least while he was talking to me, he could ignore the fawning line of autograph seekers and local corporate hotshots.
I realized he liked that. Kind of making “the man” wait for him. Anyway, after I wrapped up my 45 minutes or so with him, I asked “Mr. Aaron” if I could go out and get the poster in my car for him to sign.

“They gave these out at Henry Aaron Appreciation Day down in Atlanta,” I said, offering the poster that on this day hangs in my son’s room.
“They didn’t appreciate me in Atlanta,” he said, or words to that effect. “I don’t remember that day.”

Still he signed it, simply: “Best Wishes, Henry Aaron.”
He rolled it up and handed it back to me.

“Thanks, Mr. Aaron,” I said.
At which point the great baseball player smiled, nodded and said words I’ll never forget:
 “My name’s Henry, Tim.”

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