A couple of years ago the Sarasota Herald Tribune published an article about the real history of Hank Aaron’s first Spring Training home run. Today marks the 60th anniversary of Hank Aaron’s first home run in Spring training. Thanks to research by Matt Tavares for a book he published in 2010, we have a clearer picture of Hank Aaron’s first home run.
Hank Aaron’s home run did happen in Sarasota, but it didn’t happen on March 14. It happened four days earlier on March 10. That is three days before Bobby Thompson broke his ankle. It’s possible that Thompson’s injury helped Aaron’s progress, but Aaron was in the lineup on the 10th. Also, it’s impossible for Ted Williams to have come running out of the clubhouse that day. Williams had broken his collarbone on March 1, and was in a Boston hospital on March 10.
In 1954, the Milwaukee Braves played their Spring training games at Braves Field (now known as McKechnie Field) in Bradenton, Florida. It’s a short trip South to Sarasota. Payne Park was destroyed in 1990 and replaced with a city park. Sarasota is still home to Spring training baseball, but the new park (Ed Smith Stadium) is no longer located downtown.
I walked to Payne Park today to take some pictures from around the grounds. The spot where home plate used to sit is inaccessible by the public. A tennis club now exists where the infield existed, but I was able to get into the club to get this picture from the spot where Hank Aaron hit his first home run.
The picture above is where home plate would have been looking towards center field. This is the spot Hank Aaron stood 60 years ago today when he hit his first home run in Spring training.
Outside of the tennis club there is a history marker with information about Payne Park.
Over the 66 year history of Payne Park, it was the Spring training home of the New York Giants, Boston Red Sox, and the Chicago White Sox.
This pond sits where left field existed.
Great view from Payne Park.
Hank Aaron’s first home run in Spring training is a huge piece of baseball’s history, but the 60th anniversary has passed largely unnoticed. The old park doesn’t exist anymore and most people have forgotten Payne Park and Hank Aaron’s first home run.
1935 - Babe Ruth is released by the Yankees to sign with the Boston Braves for $20,000 and a share in the team’s profits. In April he draws the largest Opening Day crowd in the Braves’ history.
May 25, 1935: "The Bambino’s big show"
During one of those blustery, so-called “spring” days last week, we decided to cheer ourselves by exploring a few of our old baseball files. We started with a folder labeled “Ruth, Babe.” Inside were two fading images made during the Bambino’s historic visit to Pittsburgh in 1935.
At the time, Ruth was nearing the end of his career. He was 40 years old, overweight and playing for the Boston Braves, one of the league’s worst teams. It’s strange to see pictures of Ruth wearing something other than Yankee pinstripes.
But he was still the Babe, and he knew how to put on a show. He did it twice during his swing through Pittsburgh, giving performances that were at once unexpected and memorable.
The first show is legendary: In one game at Forbes Field on May 25, he blasted three home runs over the old stadium’s right field wall. Ruth sent one ball into the lower deck, one into the upper deck and, incredibly, one over the stadium’s 86-foot roof. The last homer was a monster. Some estimate the ball traveled more than 600 feet, and we’ve heard stories that boys chased the ball as it bounced down Jonciare street. It’s a beautiful scene to imagine.
Babe’s second show is less famous, but still impressive. It was witnessed not at Forbes Field, but at the old Schenley Hotel, which we now know as the William Pitt Union. The night before he hit his final home runs, Ruth attended a banquet honoring Rabbit Maranville, who’d played for the Pirates in the early 1920s and, like Babe, was wrapping up his career with the Braves. Babe was one of the featured speakers and he delivered “what many believed was the best address they’d ever heard,” according to a report by the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph.
Babe stepped up to the microphone and began talking about Rabbit, who was quite a character. He was a shortstop who stood 5-feet, 5-inches tall and was known as one of the game’s best and most brutal practical jokers.
After a few minutes, though, Babe started exhorting youngsters to take up baseball as a way of staying out of trouble. That’s when things got interesting. Suddenly, the Babe began to tear up, then he was speechless. Soon he was bawling. “He began to grab at things in an attempt to overcome the emotions that overwhelmed him,” read the Sun-Telegraph, “but the tears could not be stopped.”
Maranville, sitting nearby, tugged at the Babe’s trousers in an attempt to shake him out of his crying fit, but it didn’t work. The Sultan of Swat was beside himself.
Ruth finally got a grip. He “uttered a few offensive oaths as if to relieve his feelings,” then the crowd rose to its feet and gave the Bambino an ovation. As if on cue, the band struck up a tune.
Ruth woke up the next morning, walked over to Forbes Field and made history. Five days later, he retired from the game.
PG sportswriter Bob Dvorchak examines Ruth’s visit to Pittsburgh in this week’s episode of "Sports ‘n ‘at."
78 Years Ago Today In Boston…
Babe Ruth Makes His N.L. Debut - April 16, 1935
Here’s a pic of The Babe crossing the plate after hitting his first N.L. home run off of Carl Hubbell at Braves Field, Boston. I added some color for the occasion (I’ll make a more complete version when I have time). Finally, my thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in the Boston area today…..
Crossing Bats, Ready For Battle
Babe Ruth & Wally Berger - 1935
When Sam Jethroe premiered with the Boston Braves in 1951 he was Boston’s first African-American professional player in any team sport.
Craig Kimbrel agrees to a four year contract with the Braves.