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Aviators broadcaster recalls serving up No. 713 to Hank Aaron

Updated January 23, 2021 - 6:13 pm

Hank Aaron hit 755 major league home runs.

Jerry Reuss admits to serving up three of them. Including No. 713.

It would have been No. 714 — the one that would have tied Babe Ruth’s career total and made the Aviators’ broadcaster a dubious footnote in baseball history — had it not been for an umpire’s odd call.

While facing Curt Simmons in 1965, Aaron, who died Friday at age 86, got a running start on a change-up and hit the ball onto the pavilion roof at old Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis — only to be called out by home plate umpire Chris Pelekoudas for stepping out of the batter’s box.

Were it not for the strange play, the long ball Aaron hit off Reuss — then pitching for the Houston Astros — Sept. 29, 1973, would have been Aaron’s 714th, thus denying Cincinnati’s Jack Billingham, who allowed the then-record-equaling homer to Aaron on opening day 1974, of footnote status.

Reuss was asked Friday if giving up No. 714 would have bothered him, given his competitive nature.

He thought about it before saying, “I just wanted to get an out.”

When he was still in high school, Reuss had a chance meeting with Aaron — and fellow Braves Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews — in the visitors dressing room after trying out for the Braves at the old Busch Stadium in St. Louis, which then was brand new.

“Eddie Mathews was reading ‘Beau Geste,’ which had just been made into a movie,” Reuss recalled. “I’m 17 years old, trying to be cool, so I asked, how’s that book? And he said, ‘Horse(feathers).’

“I turned my attention to the gentleman who was getting dressed to the left of me, and that was Henry Aaron. Very soft-spoken. I introduced myself, said I was there for a workout. He said, ‘Oh, they’ve been talking about you a little bit. Were you the one bringin’ it down there?’

“I said, ‘Yes, sir, that was me.’

“He said, ‘Good for you. I hope this turns into something.’ He shook my hand. That was my introduction to Henry Aaron. Little did I know that in just a little more than six years I would be the one to serve up home run No. 713.”

Around the horn

■ Speaking of the homer Hank Aaron hit off Jack Billingham for No. 714, former Review-Journal gossip columnist Norm Clarke wrote in an email how he was there at old Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati but almost missed history being made. “I wrote the lead story for the Associated Press in 1974 when Aaron hit No. 714. Damn near missed it. Had a horrible case of hay fever that day and took an allergy pill before heading to the ballpark. I was nauseous in the first inning. I headed for the men’s room with Aaron in the on-deck circle. I stumbled back to my seat in the press box just as Aaron came to bat and tied Ruth.”

■ He’s become a nightmare for opponents as well as broadcasters. After averaging 3.4 points and 3.5 rebounds as a freshman for UNLV, sophomore forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (Nickname: Every Day Jon, for his work ethic) has bumped his averages to 8.8 and 6.8 since transferring to Baylor and is one of the major reasons the Bears started the weekend undefeated and ranked No. 2.

■ Chicago Cubs slugger Kris Bryant was upset by an internet headline and story that suggested he no longer was having fun playing baseball. Can’t say I blame him. If you watch the video in which he gives a thoughtful answer to a difficult question, the former Bonanza High standout seems only to be saying he wants to get back to when baseball was a game rather than a business.


RJ hockey writer Dave Schoen, on Golden Knights fans wanting to throw themselves on the cartoon sword of Marc-Andre Fleury’s agent anytime he reports that goalie Robin Lehner or another player did not appear at the team’s morning skate:

“Morning skates are typically optional. If someone’s not there, it doesn’t automatically mean he’s hurt or been traded to Winnipeg.”

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.