Right after my sophomore year of college, I worked briefly in Lincoln, Nebraska with a friend of mine from school (Kent). We’ve been close friends ever since. After a couple months of running a jackhammer (I can still feel the vibration), I took off to go to Florida for the final month of summer before school started again. I ended up taking a job putting in fiberglass insulation – which in Florida in the summer is as close to hell on earth as possible. I stayed longer than I planned and realized I would miss the next semester. Even so, by the end of September, I was ready to come back to Kansas.
The baseball season of 1973 is famous for at least one thing – Hank Aaron’s assault on Babe Ruth’s record of 714 homers in a career. At that time, Babe Ruth was remembered almost as a god. Baseball was by far the most popular sport and Ruth might as well have been George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. So, when Aaron was approaching Ruth’s record, it was a HUGE story. But, the part of it that made it even more compelling was that Aaron was black and Ruth was, of course, white. Millions and millions of fans did not want Aaron breaking the record, but it was inevitable… as long as he was alive to do it.
Aaron hit 40 home runs in 1973. He wasn’t going away unless, as he feared, someone killed him. At the time, the assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were fresh on everyone’s mind. The thought that someone would take out Aaron was a very real concern at the time.
I was stupid in 1973. Of course, most 20-year olds are. I headed back to Kansas on Thursday, September 27th. Aaron was sitting on 712 home runs – two short of the Babe. Aaron’s Atlanta Braves were playing the Houston Astros in the last two games of the season. Strangely, they had two days off before they played.
You have to remember (in my defense) in those days, information was not easy to come by. You didn’t just log onto a computer and the internet. You had to find a newspaper and it had to have what you wanted or you were screwed. So, I wasn’t completely a moron…
…Nevertheless, as I was leaving from Florida, I came to the same junction that I spoke about in my Florida 2004 story - the junction of I-75 and I-10 in north Florida. One went more direct to Kansas while the other went straight west. I could take either, but I-10 would take longer than the other. Ironically, as it turns out, I took the wrong one for multiple reasons.
I turned west on I-10 and the reason I went west on I-10 was because I wanted to go to Houston. I figured I had plenty of time to make it before the Saturday game between Houston and Atlanta. I foolishly thought I would just buy a ticket and perhaps watch history being made. Of course, it would have been impossible to buy a ticket, but I was hick from Kansas… what did I know?
But, that’s only the half of it. After a brief stop in New Orleans, I headed on to Houston. I got there on Friday night. The next morning I discovered that the game that day was being played between Houston and Atlanta alright, just that it was in… Atlanta, not Houston! Had I gone the direct route to Kansas, I would have gone through Atlanta! Of course, I still wouldn’t have been able to get a ticket, but I probably would have saved a lot of time - over a year as it turns out.
Aaron homered that day for #713, but failed to homer the following day, Sunday, the last day of the season. So, at the end of 1973, he was one home run short of Ruth’s record. It made a very uncomfortable six months for him because he was sincerely worried about his life.
As for me, I instantly fell in love with Houston, which at the time was an extremely fast growing city that was very clean, new and rich. Oil was king and that was during a time when the oil embargo made American companies more money than they could spend. I got a job working for Houston Lighting and Power in the Rate and Research department. They tested me and decided I was good at math (what a shocker) and put me in that division. I ended up staying in Houston for 15 months until I came back to Kansas on vacation and realized how much I missed being home.