In his classical essay, "Here Is New York," E.B. White, the great American stylist and humorist of the 1940s, paints in vivid imagery the finest narrative of New York ever to be written. White speaks of three New Yorks.
If I may borrow his method, and apply it to Atlanta, I am free to say that there are three Atlantans; namely, the Atlanta with deep and penetrating roots in the Old South; the Atlanta that stands as the communications, transportation and finance hub of the South - an international city, and the Atlanta that is dedicated to the highest and best in entertainment, arts and sports.
No matter how you looked at Atlanta before that last baseball game of 1973, it was a showcase of the spectacular. Something was in the air that every media person tried to describe, but often fell short, that was the game when almost everybody expected a black batter by the name of Hank Aaron to accomplish the unsurpassed, the ultimate, by beating Babe Ruth's lifetime record of 714 home runs.
There could be no doubt; Hank Aaron was the man of the hour. Chill drops beaded on his brow, as the lights of the Atlanta stadium broke through the murky mists of the afternoon on September 30. The standing ovation, the shouts of adulation, and his name blaring over the stadium loud speakers seemed to be a sweet lullaby of Indian summer floating in the humid air.
Aaron, who liked to dine at fancy restaurants, had a different appetite on this day; he hungered for the one pitch of the ball that he could slug that would unseat Babe Ruth as the Home Run King.
Until the l970s, the immortal Babe Ruth had been known as a legend. He had revolutionized the game of baseball in the 1920s with his powerful hitting. In one year, 1927, he knocked a whopping record of 60 home runs for his team, the New York Yankees.
Ruth retired from the game on June 2, 1934, 8 days after he had slugged a home run out of the stadium into Schenley Park, the longest drive ever seen in Pittsburgh by the Pirates. Fans rose in a great mass of jubilant celebration. The game was stopped, and Ruth retired as baseball's greatest player.
With 714 home runs as his career record, he would remain a legend for the next 40 years.
There is a popular myth that baseball was the invention of Abner Doubleday of Coopertown, New York in 1839, but in reality, baseball is a game which evolved from the older game of cricket.
Baseball, as we know it, was first played in New York with rules adopted at a meeting of the Knickerbockers' baseball club in 1845. The rules restricted the game to nine players and four bases.
In 1857, a convention of baseball clubs met and established a nine-inning limit, and the next year formed the first league, the National Association of Base Ball Players. The first professional team was the Cincinnati Red Socks.
Later the American Independent Association was formed with the concept of Sunday games and the sale of beer. For a long time, there was strong rivalry and bitter competition just before the turn of the century.
Finally, in 1901, the American league became a self-declared major league, and sought to overthrow the dominance of the National League by invading the same cities.
A truce was finally reached with the advent of the World Series, which has been played every year but one since 1903. The notable exception came in 1904, when the New York Giants rejected the invitation to meet Boston, an American League team.
Night baseball started in 1935. Then in 1947 black players were admitted to the major leagues. By 1950, television produced dramatic changes, and baseball became the financial giant among sports in America.
But to return to that game on Sept. 30, 1973, the game that was to crown Hank Aaron the King of Baseball. It was going to be a rainy night in Georgia; in fact, hazy clouds had hovered heavily over the city all morning. The brilliant shine of Georgia's gold-domed Capitol building was blemished by the muggy vapors which fell in the early afternoon.
But the time had now come for the game between Atlanta and the Houston Astros. Fans flooded the streets. Great expectations were ringing in the air. Three fourths of those attending didn't care which team won; they came to root for Hank Aaron to break Babe Ruth's home run record.
By the time the 40,517 people jammed the stadium, the gray afternoon was penetrated by a slight stream of sunshine; a symbol of hope to the thousands in Atlanta and millions around the world.
They waited with tingling anticipation. This must be the day, they concluded.
For Hank Aaron it had been a wild and windy day, in the words of the Beetles' song, "a long and winding road" that led him here.
He now stood on the threshold of a great opportunity. Closer and closer he had come to the realization of his ambition. His prophecy was this: "I'll be the first man in history to break Babe Ruth's record."
Aaron had every reason to fail in the first place, starting out in poverty as a black kid in Mobile, Ala. didn't give him a passport to the parade of baseball fame.
But, Aaron took the challenge. He fought against sentiment in favor of baseball's most famous legend, to reach what some thought was the unreachable goal.
He thought this game in Atlanta would be the golden moment, the event of a lifetime. He was ready as he had always been to, in the words of Phil Musick, "bring one more bit of newness to the world; to return to the dust one more relic of the past."
However, he failed in his attempt that day. He had connected on a low pitch the night before, and made his 713th homer, but his dream was put on hold for another year. Rain poured down after Hank struck out on his last time at bat, but neither his failure nor the rain drenched his spirit. He'd wait for 1974 to put Babe Ruth into the shade of baseball history.
His day finally came. The long pursuit of Ruth's record came to a brilliant end. On the first swing of the new season he hit his 714 homer over the fence in Cincinnati on April 4, 1974.
Fame had not passed him by. Four days later, in Atlanta, he slammed a pitch by the Dodgers' pitcher Al Downing. The ball sailed like a rocket over left center-field fence for Hammerin' Hank's 715 home runs.
I believe this was Hank's greatest moment. To those who saw it, there would be nothing to match it.
Henry Aaron, the man who was the first to match and top Ruth's home run record, retired with a total of 755 home runs, 3600 hits: an unparalleled career in American baseball.