You have to be a pretty special kind of racist to threaten someone for fair athletic achievements that will happen to make an African-American the record-holder for career home runs, but such was the case in the early 70s. The man was of course Hank Aaron, and between 1972 and 1974 he was on the path to smashing a long-held Babe Ruth record of 714 career home runs. A group of people including director Barry Levinson, writer Adam Mazer, and Hank Aaron himself want to bring this story to the big screen.
A production set up by producers that have long been involved with Aaron’s charitable groups and even an Aaron-focused documentary, the project will follow up the group’s You Don’t Know Jack, the well-regarded Kevorkian HBO movie. Levinson is also well known for another influential baseball flick, The Natural.
Aaron posits that this is a relevant and lesson-teaching story that could shed some insight on our divided times, and I agree. It’s a profoundly troubling thought to consider people who would threaten death on an inspiring Athlete because he’s going to “steal” a record from a white guy by virtue of his athletic merits. Then again, perhaps it’s not all that hard to understand. In the world of politics and social structure it’s easier to be subtly racist while harboring deep-down beliefs of superiority that go unchallenged. But in an athletic setting — as close to a true meritocracy as you can get — it must be deeply disturbing to a bigot to witness the “other” demonstrate indisputably greater skill and accomplishment on a literal even playing field.
What will be particularly satisfying to a particular editor of this site is that record was not only broken by Aaron while he played for the Atlanta Braves, but he broke it in Atlanta. That led to this speech by an announcer, which is not tough to imagine in the climax of a moving sports film…
“What a marvelous moment for baseball; what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia; what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron. … And for the first time in a long time, that poker face in Aaron shows the tremendous strain and relief of what it must have been like to live with for the past several months.”
This could be potent stuff and this team seems to work well together- I’m excited to see what turns out. One has to wonder if the success of Moneyball has bolstered their confidence in the accessibility of baseball movies…