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The Hank Aaron Story

As Dana tells it . . .

I grew up near Cooperstown, N.Y., and worked for three summers (1976-78) at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. It was basic custodian/gofer work: keep the bathrooms stocked, run souvenirs from the storeroom to the giftshop, and help run the movies. I used to know "Who's on First" by heart.

Minus three major holidays, the Hall of Fame is open year-round. Early each August, though, the Hall inducts its new members in a morning ceremony. Since moved, the ceremony back then was held at an adjacent public park. During that morning, the Hall of Fame and Museum was closed to all except visiting dignitaries -- inductees and their families, and other baseball VIPs attending the ceremony. This was a wonderful day for the summer employees, for there was little for us to do in the near-empty building, and we were free to discretely shadow the dignitaries and even sometimes sneak an autograph.

One summer (I would guess it was 1978), Hank Aaron visited on Induction Day. He had recently retired, but wasn't yet eligible for induction; that would come in 1982. He was merely visiting on the day of inductions, and he and his entourage were among the 30 or 40 people strolling around the otherwise empty Hall of Fame that morning.

The centerpiece of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is the Hall itself, a stately marble sanctuary (always far more quiet than the remainder of the building) where the bronze plaques of inductees hang side-by-side in perhaps twelve large alcoves. Hank and his entourage eventually made their way to the end of the Hall -- a floor-to-ceiling wall of windows and doors that overlooks what was then the site of the induction ceremonies. Someone outside had spied Hank, and a crowd had formed on the lawn, near the doorway, anticipating that if Hank intended to take part in the ceremony he would eventually exit there and cross the park.

The entourage pressed near the windows, surveying the crowd, now only inches away on the other side of the glass. While they contemplated a strategy to minimize mob access to Hank, the slugger himself broke free and slowly strolled back into the Hall of Fame, which was otherwise completely empty. He wandered up the center of the Hall, the sound of footsteps echoing off marble walls. Perhaps halfway up the Hall, he drifted to the left, climbed the two shallows steps leading to the plaque-lined alcoves, and entered one of them.

Having noticed this, I quietly trailed, and when Hank had stopped within the alcove I neared from behind. He was reading one of the plaques. One of the plaques had caught his attention, and he stood there reading it like any other tourist, except completely alone. With 20 years having past, I now imagine dusty beams of light nearby and the eerie fading of all peripheral noise.

Maybe none of those details are accurate, but it's true that, there alone in the Hall of Fame, while all others were focused on charting his route through a quagmire of fans, Hank Aaron was reading the plaque of Babe Ruth.


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