What you’re about to read hasn’t got much to do with the Indians, but I think it might resonate with some readers just the same.
My father was born in rural West Virginia in 1918. He was not a learned man, having dropped out of school after the eighth grade to work on the family farm. Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, and served for a time aboard the USS Ranger in the Pacific theater. By the time I was born, he’d moved to Cleveland, gotten married, and taken a job with a short line railroad, working outdoors five days a week, 50 weeks out of the year.
He’d come home from work exhausted every day, but he was seldom too tired to indulge me when, after supper, I would ask him to grab his mitt and play catch with me in the front yard. He took me to my first Indians game when I was five. He’d seen a lot of good Indians teams in the 1950s, but he never stopped being a fan throughout the organization’s lean years of the 1960s and beyond.
I loved my dad, but as I grew up, I came to realize that he held many prejudiced views about members of other races, and I heard many unkind words used to describe people of color, gay people, etc. I don’t need to go into detail here. You know the words I mean. I never saw him treat anyone with disrespect, unless they had it coming, but by the time I turned ten, I knew just about every ethnic slur you can think of, and perhaps some you may never have heard. This is not to excuse his mindset, but he was very much a product of his background and of his generation.
As adolescents, my sister and I looked for ways to point out the ignorance behind some of his words and attitudes. We weren’t wholly successful, but over time his vocabulary became more acceptable, and I think he learned to become more tolerant and less judgmental.
40 years ago yesterday, Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run, thus passing Babe Ruth as the home run leader. My father and I watched the game on TV, and so we got to see Aaron hit the home run. As Aaron rounded the bases, my father said something like “Good for him. He’s a great ballplayer, and I’m glad to see him do this.”
I’m sure there were millions of kids and teenagers watching that game on TV that night. I’ll bet most of them have a vivid memory of it. I know I do.
My dad died in 2002. I think about him every day. I wish he were still here, so I could ask him whether he remembered watching the game with me, remembered watching a black man become the home run champion. I’d like to think that he would remember it. I know he’d be glad to know that as much as I remember watching Aaron break the record, I remember that my dad was watching it with me.