It was August 18, 1965, and I remember it like it was
yesterday 40 years ago. Because of baseball's insanely detailed record-keeping, I know the game started at 8:00 PM, and there were 13,903 people there. Some sources say it was a Sportman's Park in St. Louis, but by then it was really called Busch Stadium. The old Busch Stadium, or more precisely the old old Busch Stadium. Two stadiums before the one they have there now. An August evening in St. Louis, the weather is usually hot and humid. Or humid and hot. A subtle difference to be sure, but one you could eventually pick up on if you lived there long enough. But that particular evening was quite pleasant, a great night for Fun At The Old Ballpark as Cardinals broadcaster Harry Caray used to say,
We went to the game to see the Cardinals play the lame duck Milwaukee Braves. 1965 was the Braves last year in Milwaukee, but they were really messing things up by making a run for the National League pennant. It was me, my brother Tim, our neighborhood friends Kevin and Mark O'Donnell, and Mr. O'Donnell. We were going to see Curt Simmons pitch, because Curt Simmons lived in our subdivision and we played baseball with his kids. (Not organized Little League baseball but rather the neighborhood sandlot choose-sides-by-flipping-the-bat type of baseball, the type of baseball you seldom see played any more.) Simmons had been one of the 1950 Philadelphia Phillies Whiz Kids who won the pennant that year, but now nearing the end of his career with his fastball gone, he relied on his skill and experience as a pitcher. That is to say, he threw a lot of junk. But he was still a very effective pitcher, and had helped the Cardinals win the World Series the previous year. A sort of cosmic justice you might say, because he missed the entire 1950 World Series because his National Guard unit had been activated.
Curt Simmons was about the only pitcher who had Hank Aaron baffled. Before a game one time Aaron asked one of Curt Simmons' kids, "Why can't your father throw like everyone else?" What Aaron meant was throwing like the blazing fastballer Don Drysdale, who ended up serving 17 home runs to Aaron in his career. But to Simmons that was pure folly. He said "Trying to sneak a fastball past Henry Aaron is like trying to sneak a sunrise past a rooster." So he threw lots of slow, breaking stuff to Aaron. Which leads us to the Mythical Home Run 756.
Most of you know the basic details about Aaron's home runs. He first tied, and then broke, Babe Ruth's all-time home run record in April of 1974 with the now-Atlanta Braves. After the 1974 season Aaron was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers, where he hit his 755th and last home run at Milwaukee's County Stadium on July 20, 1976.
We got a preview of Number 756 in the 6th inning. Simmons threw one ssllllowwwwwww curve ball after another to Aaron. I remember watching them and thinking "Gee, even I could hit one of those." Aaron was pouncing on them, almost cartoon-style, fouling one off after another until he flied out to center. The crowd was going nuts, it was a terrific show by two great ball players.
But all that was nothing compared to what was in store when Aaron came to bat with the score tied 3-3 in the 8th inning. The whole crowd was completely mesmerized by the show Simmons was putting on. One slow curve after another. It was almost as if he were placing the ball on a T-ball standing and daring Aaron to try to hit it. Aaron was fouling off pitch after pitch. Sometimes the baseball geeks talk about "the game within the game", and I think I could live to be 150 years old and never see a better example than what I saw that night. Finally on one pitch Aaron did kind of a hop, skip, and double shuffle, lunging at the ball and with a flick of his quick wrists, powering the ball over the right field roof. Home run 756.
But home plate umpire Chris Pelekoudas ruled that Aaron had violated rule 6.06(a), which as you know states that a batter must keep both feet within the batter's box (some say that Cardinals catcher Bob Uecker pointed this out to Pelekoudas). So instead of a home run, Aaron was ruled out. And yes, he was out of the batter's box, no doubt about it. Everyone in the park knew it. In fact, Aaron had stepped out of the batter's box on the previous at-bat, but Pelekoudas hadn't called it because he had flied out anyway.
So that's the story, pretty much. Milwaukee ended up winning the game on a 9th-inning pinch-hit home run (his only home run of the year, I might add) by a fellow from South Carolina named Don Dillard, playing in his last major league season. We could certainly understand losing a game due to a home run by Aaron, Mathews, or Torre. But Dillard? Dillard?
The next year the Cardinals moved into the new Busch Stadium, the one they just tore down. The Simmons kids moved away when their dad was traded to the Cubs. When he retired in 1967, Curt Simmons was the last major league pitcher to have played in the 1940's. And Hank Aaron still holds the career record for home runs: 755.