Henry Aaron, the longtime home-run king, actually hit 756 homers in his esteemed career. But he had one taken away from him as a Milwaukee Braves slugger, by home-plate umpire Chris Pelekoudas on Aug. 18, 1965 at Busch Stadium I — the former Sportsman’s Park.
Cardinals Hall of Famer Tim McCarver remembers it well. He was catching that night.
It happened in the eighth inning of a 3-3 game. Aaron, the National Baseball Hall of Famer who died at 86 on Friday, was hitting with two out against lefthander Curt Simmons, who featured a slower-than-slow changeup that Aaron couldn’t wait for sometimes.
The at-bat before, Aaron had flied to center fielder Curt Flood and McCarver was told by Pelekoudas that if that ball had been dropped, “I’ve got to call Henry out. Did you see how far out of the box he was?”
“I sheepishly kind of mumbled something,” McCarver recalled Friday. “I didn’t want to say that Henry Aaron was out of the box. I hadn’t stooped to those levels yet. I didn’t disagree with Chris, but I didn’t disagree vehemently because it had been a routine fly ball.”
In the eighth, Aaron, moving up in the box — and out with his left foot — walloped a ball some 450 feet on top of the pavilion in right field. But in the box score he was retired by catcher McCarver. Stepping out of the box, almost never called, was called on this occasion and Braves manager Bobby Bragan went nuts and was ejected.
Aaron voiced some displeasure but was not run from the game.
“That shows you something about Henry,” McCarver said. “Henry never argued about anything. He didn’t have to.”
But afterward, Aaron had told the Associated Press, “It’s the worst call I’ve ever seen. I did the same thing the time before and popped up, and (Pelekoudas) didn’t say a word. I always hit Simmons that way.”
McCarver said on Friday, “Something like that was so seldom called. I can’t ever remember it called when I was catching. I knew the rule but it was never in effect.”
But McCarver added, chuckling, “He was five feet out of the box.”
McCarver, who played against Aaron for some 17 years, said Aaron was the best hitter he saw at not getting jammed by the inside pitch.
“He was one of the very few hitters that I caught behind that, in order to get the big part of the bat on the ball, he would bring his hands in and bring the barrel of the bat with him,” McCarver said. “More hitters tend to pull a ball like that foul because the ball is off the plate inside.
“Barry Bonds could do it. Maybe Willie Stargell and maybe Willie McCovey or one of those big strong guys who had other-worldly power. But Henry was the most dominant player that could keep that ball on the inside part of the plate fair.”
Aaron rarely changed bats because he didn’t have to.
“You couldn’t jam him, so you could never break his bat,” McCarver said. “Lew Burdette told me when he got traded to the Cardinals that he and Warren Spahn took the bat Aaron had used since spring training and it was already June. They took a look at the fat part of the bat and there wasn’t a mark on it other than the cluster of balls to bat.”
The home run Aaron lost in St. Louis would have been No. 28 of the season and No. 394 of his career. But he would rally to hit 362 more.
And, as it turned out, the Braves didn’t need this one anyway. Pinch-hitter Don Dillard hit his first homer of the season and 14th and final of his career off Ray Washburn in the ninth to win the game for Milwaukee 5-3.
But that home run also was in dispute. The Cardinals argued Dillard’s drive didn’t clear the wall and shouldn’t have been ruled a home run, but second-base umpire Bill Jackowski said the ball hit the top of the wall, caromed off a fan in the stands and bounced back onto the field.
The Post-Dispatch reported the ball Dillard hit “came straight down and hit the outfield wall padding before bouncing onto the field.”
“I came very close to catching the ball,” Flood said to the Post-Dispatch. “I thought it was a big can of corn. There was no way for the ball to come down the way it did if a fan had touched the ball.”