I’ve been told I’m a fairly perky fellow by nature. I think that’s true for the most part. I’m pretty much a glass-half-full kind of dude.
Yet every once in a while, the cranky Steve pops-up for a brief visit.
Cranky Steve stopped by for a visit on the 22nd of January. That was the day I learned of Hank Aaron’s death. Upon hearing the news, I was struck by waves of sadness and loss. And frustration and despair.
I remember quite well the day “Hammerin’ Hank” belted his record-breaking 715th homer on April 8, 1974. My brother Shawn and I were watching the game on our front porch that evening, and cheered as the ball soared over the left-field fence.
Aaron’s reaction to his history-making feat has stayed with me. He dropped the bat, then jogged around the bases as a few fans attempted to run alongside him, with an occasional pat on Hank’s shoulder. Humility. Grace.
What made his reaction even more impressive was the fact that he received hundreds of death threats as he approached the record. Why? Because of his race.
Of course, threats due to the color of his skin were nothing new to Henry. When he was but a small boy, his mother instructed her children to hide under their beds as a group of Ku Klux Klan members marched in front of their house.
Fast-forward several decades as Hank’s record was eclipsed. Continue to fast-forward as we witness home runs being belted by today’s era of sluggers, followed by bat-flipping, chest-pounding, arm-raising, expletive-screaming, jewelry-dangling antics too often on display.
What happened to class? What happened to maturity? What happened to acting in a way that honors the legacy of those who have paved the way, legacies provided by the likes of Aaron, Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente? What’s happened to acting like this isn’t the first time I’ve ever hit a home run?
So, I’m grieving the loss of Hank Aaron. I’m grieving after being reminded of what he had to deal with as an African-American athlete living in our country. And I’m frustrated as I lament the loss of an era of athletes I was excited to watch and appreciate.
I’m hoping the 2021 version of MLB athletes will inspire the return of “Perky Steve.” But I’m not holding my breath.
Steve McKay of Orono is a former radio personality who for 22 years was the meteorologist at WLBZ-TV (Channel 2) in Bangor. He now serves as pastor at First United Methodist Church in Bangor and Corinth United Methodist Church. The lifelong sports fan, a 1978 graduate of Orono High School, earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Maine, a master’s degree from Bangor Theological Seminary and a doctorate from Duke University. He and his wife Judy have two adult sons and seven grandchildren.