In the late spring of 1975, something weird happened: Hank Aaron hit a 200-foot home run in a football stadium in his first-ever appearance against his long-time former team, the Atlanta Braves.
It happened in Memphis.
I was 8.
I might have been there. Memory’s a bit fuzzy.
But for years I did have a souvenir program from the long-gone Memphis Blues, a Triple-A team then affiliated with the Montreal Expos, that referenced a May 5, 1975, exhibition between the Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers. Aaron, in the twilight of his career, had been traded to the Brewers for one final season in the city where his MLB career began, and the teams had scheduled exhibitions in Memphis and Atlanta. (Recall your baseball history: the Braves, late of Boston, moved to Milwaukee before settling in the ATL.)
The catch is that the Braves-Brewers midseason exhibition wouldn’t be played at Blues Stadium, the unimpressive minor-league park the Double-A Memphis Chicks would later rename Tim McCarver Stadium. Instead, the game was oddly scheduled for Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium (then-Memphis Memorial Stadium) — which sat about 50,000 but was, and still is, a downright silly place for baseball.
The stadium’s fine — for football. (The Liberty Bowl has its dissenters, especially from those who prefer on-campus stadiums for college football, but I digress.) Unlike most multipurpose stadiums that host different sports, the Liberty Bowl is an oblong concrete bowl with concrete walls that don’t move. There is no extra space. In fact, when Memphis hosted a Canadian Football League team in the 1990s — the Memphis Mad Dogs, rest in peace — groundskeepers couldn’t install the regulation-size CFL playing surface because there wasn’t enough room for the larger end zones.
Baseball in the Liberty Bowl was worse. Comical, even.
Home plate was stuck in a corner of the south end zone. The left-field line followed roughly on the path of the home team football sideline, but center and right field slammed hard into the concrete wall of the visiting sideline. The right-field wall was less than 200 feet from home plate. (Just 174, in fact.) And hilarity — and history — ensued for the 11,365 who were there.
Aaron “blooped” a 200-foot home run to right in the first inning.
So did the Braves’ Darrell Evans.
In the seventh, a minor-league pitcher the Braves had brought up from Savannah to fill innings in the exhibition, Bobby Box, took the mound. He handled the seventh and gave up a 200-foot homer and an even shorter ground-rule double in the eighth.
“All the players,” Box said, “were taking shots at that right field corner,” the Times-Standard of Eureka, Calif., reported.
“Atlanta Manager Clyde King assured Box that in any normal ball park that the two extra-base hits would have been routine outs,” the Times-Standard wrote.
The Brewers won, 6-2.
The game didn’t count. Thank goodness.