Hank Aaron ties Babe Ruth’s home run record

Year
1974
Month Day
April 04

As the 1974 Major League Baseball season began, all eyes were on Hank Aaron. He had finished 1973 with 713 career home runs, one shy of the all-time record set by Babe Ruth. On April 4, Opening Day, a 39-year-old Aaron sent the very first pitch he saw over the wall, finally tying Ruth and setting the stage for his ascent to the top of the all-time home runs list.

Aaron, who played in the majors from 1954 until 1976, was known for his longevity and consistency in addition to his power-hitting. He had hit 40 homers the previous season, drawing the nation’s attention as he approached Ruth’s record. The Post Office declared that Aaron received the most mail of any private citizen in the country, and although the majority was positive he was also the recipient of hate mail and death threats. Ruth’s record had stood for four decades, and racist fans were upset at the thought of Aaron, one of the last MLB players to have played in the Negro Leagues, breaking it.

The ownership of the Braves wanted to sit Aaron for the first series of the 1974 season to ensure that he broke Ruth’s record in Atlanta. The league, however, insisted that he play at least two of the three games. It looked for all the world like he would break the record in Cincinnati after he homered on the very first pitch of the season, but 715 eluded him until he returned to Atlanta. He broke Ruth’s record in the fourth inning of the Atlanta Braves’ home opener on April 8.

Aaron retired two years later with a career total of 755 home runs. That record would stand until 2007, when it was broken by Barry Bonds, but Bonds’ well-documented and extensive use of performance-enhancing drugs has made his record illegitimate in the eyes of many fans and kept him out of the Hall of Fame. Aaron was inducted into the Hall in 1982, as soon as he was eligible, and continues to hold a number of MLB records.

READ MORE: Jackie Robinson’s Battles for Equality On and Off the Baseball Field

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MLB retires Jackie Robinson’s number

Year
1997
Month Day
April 15

On April 15, 1997, the 50 anniversary of his first Major League Baseball game, the league retires Jackie Robinson’s number, 42. Robinson, whose breaking of the “color barrier” in 1947 was a major moment in the history of racial integration in the United States, is the only player in MLB history to have his number retired across all teams, a sign of the reverence with which he is regarded decades after he led the charge to integrate the major leagues.

Before 1947, Major League Baseball was, like much of America, explicitly whites-only, with black players competing in the entirely separate Negro American League. MLB executive Branch Rickey, who was charged with exploring the possibility of integration, scouted and chose Robinson to break the league’s color barrier both because of his talent and because he believed Robinson would be able to endure the racist abuse that would undoubtedly be hurled his way. Robinson did indeed face racist taunts from fans, abuse and rough play from his opponents, and even racist remarks from his own teammates during the 1947 season. Nonetheless, he proved that African-American players could not only compete but could thrive in MLB, leading the league in stolen bases and winning National League Rookie of the Year. By the time of his retirement in 1956, Robinson had won the Most Valuable Player award, been named to six All-Star teams, and won the 1955 World Series, a list of accomplishments that would have made any player a likely candidate for the Hall of Fame. He was elected to the Hall of Fame as soon as he was eligible in 1962, and the Dodgers retired his number shortly before his death in 1972.

In a 1997 ceremony attended by Robinson’s widow and President Bill Clinton, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said, “Number 42 belongs to Jackie Robinson for the ages.” Certain players who wore the number at the time were permitted to do so for the remainder of their career—thus the New York Yankees’ Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera was the last-ever player to wear the number, playing his final game in 2013. Wayne Gretzky, whose domination of the National Hockey League earned him the nickname The Great One, is the only other player to have his number retired across every team in a major American sports league. Today, Robinson and the number he wore remain synonymous with the struggle to end segregation in American sports.

READ MORE: Jackie Robinson’s Battles for Equality On and Off the Baseball Field

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President Carter calls for Olympics to be moved from Moscow


Year
1980
Month Day
January 20

On January 20, 1980, in a letter to the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and a television interview, U.S. President Jimmy Carter proposes that the 1980 Summer Olympics be moved from the planned host city, Moscow, if the Soviet Union failed to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan within a month.

“It’s very important for the world to realize how serious a threat the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan is,” Carter declared. He argued that continued aggressive action by the Soviets would endanger athletes and spectators who traveled to Moscow for the games, and declared that if the International Olympic Committee (IOC) declined to move the competition, American athletes should boycott the games. Lord Killanin, president of the IOC, reacted quickly to Carter’s statement, saying it was impossible to move the games from Moscow.

After the IOC denied Carter’s request, the USOC later voted to boycott the Moscow games, a decision that Carter announced on March 21, 1980. The boycott devastated the hopes of many U.S. athletes, especially after Carter backed it up with the law, promising to revoke the passports of American athletes who traveled to the games in violation of the boycott. For his part, Killanin called the U.S. boycott a violation of the Olympic charter, pointing out that Moscow had been awarded the games in the mid-1970s as part of a binding contract–one that could only be broken if the Soviets breached their own responsibilities first.

The United States was one of some 60 countries that eventually boycotted the Moscow Olympics, though some countries that didn’t officially send teams took no action against individual athletes who chose to go. Among U.S. allies, Great Britain, Sweden, France and Italy sent teams. The Soviet Union dominated the other 80 participating nations, winning 195 medals (80 gold) in 1980, in one of the most lopsided Olympics ever. Four years later, the Soviets returned the slight with a boycott of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, saying they were worried about the safety of their athletes given the strongly anti-Communist environment that existed in the United States. In an interesting contrast, Communist-led China decided to attend the games for the first time in 32 years, bringing the total number of participating countries to a record high 140.

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Venus Williams wins Wimbledon for the first time

Year
2000
Month Day
July 09

On July 9, 2000, Venus Williams wins at Wimbledon for the first time. Her victory over defending champion, Lindsay Davenport, made Williams the first black female Wimbledon champion since Althea Gibson won back-to-back titles in 1957 and 1958. 

Overcoming a tough childhood in Compton, California, Williams became a champion women’s tennis player with seven Grand Slam singles titles, 16 Grand Slam doubles titles and four Olympic gold medals. Williams and her sister Serena are considered two of the greatest tennis players of all time.

Williams was born on June 17, 1980, in Lynwood, California. Her father, a self-taught tennis coach, trained his daughters on the local courts. When Williams was 10 years old, the family relocated to West Palm Beach, Florida so Venus and Serena could attend a tennis academy.

By the age of 10, Williams’ serve topped off at an impressive 100 miles per hour. Thanks to that serve and athletic prowess on the court, Williams was 63-0 on the United States Tennis Association junior tour.

On October 31, 1994, Williams turned pro at 14 years old. In 1997, she became the first woman since Pam Shriver in 1978 to reach the final of her first U.S. Open. In 1998, she won her first Grand Slam at the Australian Open. A year later, she won the French Open women’s doubles tournament with her sister.

When Williams won at Wimbledon in 2000, she said, “It’s really great because I’ve been working so hard all my life to be here… It’s strange. I’d go to bed at night and I’d dream I’d won a Grand Slam, but when I woke up, there was the nightmare. Now, I don’t have to wake up like that anymore.” 

That same year she went on to win the U.S. Open, two gold medals at the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney and signed a $40 million sponsorship deal with Reebok.

In 2011, Williams revealed she was battling Sjögren syndrome, a chronic, incurable immune system disorder. Many expected her to take a step back from tennis. Instead, she went on to win gold at the 2012 Summer Olympics and the women’s doubles title at Wimbledon.

READ MORE: Trailblazing Black Women in Sports 

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U.S. women’s soccer team wins record 4th World Cup title

Year
2019
Month Day
July 07

On July 7, 2019, after a dominating tournament showing, the U.S. women’s national team brings home a record fourth FIFA World Cup title—its second in a row.

Held in host country France, the 2-0 final saw the United States facing the Netherlands, with the first goal scored in the match’s 61st minute. Following a video review, it was determined U.S. forward Alex Morgan, 30, had been fouled inside the penalty box, and forward Megan Rapinoe, 34, converted the penalty kick.

Eight minutes later, midfielder Rose Lavelle, 24, scored again on an 18-yard shot. Both Rapinoe and Lavelle had suffered hamstring injuries earlier in the tournament but were cleared to play. Rapinoe was awarded the tournament’s Golden Ball (for best player) and Golden Boot (for most goals—she tied Morgan and Ellen White of England with six a piece, but Rapinoe played fewer minutes).

The team set a women’s World Cup record with 26 goals and 12 straight wins, tying Germany as the only teams to score repeat championships. With four World Cup wins—in 1991, 1999, 2015 and 2019—the U.S. is the only team to have won more than two titles (no country other than Germany has won more than one title). The team’s 13-0 thrashing of Thailand in its opening match also set a record of most goals and largest margin of victory in a single World Cup game—by either men or women.

At the end of the final, fans chanted “Equal pay!” in support of an ongoing gender discrimination lawsuit by players Morgan, Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Becky Sauerbrunn against the U.S. Soccer Federation. 

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Sunday Silence wins Preakness Stakes by a nose

Year
1989
Month Day
May 20

On May 20, 1989, Sunday Silence edges by Easy Goer to win the closest race in the 114-year history of the Preakness Stakes by a nose. Sunday Silence had already beaten Easy Goer in the Kentucky Derby by two-and-a-half lengths, putting the horse one victory away from winning the first Triple Crown since 1978. Come June, though, Easy Goer had his revenge, beating Sunday Silence by eight lengths in the Belmont Stakes.

The track that would become home to the Preakness first hosted a race in 1870, after Maryland Governor Oden Bowie offered a $15,000 prize to the winner of a stakes race to take place in Baltimore. The Maryland Jockey Club purchased land and built a track in the Charm City to stage the event. On October 25, 1870, the new Pimlico Race Track opened and hosted its first race, “The Dinner Party Race,” which makes it the second oldest racetrack in the country after Saratoga Racetrack in Saratoga Springs, New York.

A horse named Preakness won that first stakes race at Pimlico, capturing Bowie’s $15,000 prize. In 1873, the track hosted its first race for three year olds, which Governor Bowie dubbed “the Preakness” after the first Dinner Party Stakes winner. Survivor won the first Preakness in 1873 and the $2,500 prize. The 1877 Preakness, known as “The Great Race,” was so anticipated the House of Representatives adjourned to watch as thoroughbreds Parole, Ten Broeck and Tom Ochiltree battled it out. Pimlico staged the race every year from then on, save for a break between 1889 and 1904, when the race traveled. When horse racing was banned during an anti-gambling wave in the United States in 1910, both Maryland and Kentucky kept the tradition alive, refusing to abandon their favorite sport.

READ MORE: In 1968, This Kentucky Derby Winner Lost its Crown for a Drug Most Horses Take Now

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Riot erupts at Lima, Peru soccer match, killing hundreds

Year
1964
Month Day
May 24

A referee’s call in a soccer match between Peru and Argentina sparks a riot on May 24, 1964. More than 300 fans were killed and another 500 people were injured in the violent melee that followed at National Stadium in Lima, Peru.

The match was a qualifier for the 1964 Olympics and the Peruvian fans were fiercely cheering on their team with only a few minutes left in a close game. When the referee disallowed an apparent goal for Peru, the stadium went wild. The resulting panic and crowd-control measures taken caused stampedes in which people were crushed and killed.

The extent of this disaster has only been surpassed once. In 1982, 340 people died at a match in Moscow when a late goal caused fans who had exited the game to attempt to return suddenly. Meanwhile, police were forcing people to exit; those caught in the middle were crushed.

Large-scale soccer disasters date back to 1946 when 33 fans were crushed to death in Bolton, England, when overcrowded conditions caused a barrier to collapse onto fans.

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Bobby Fischer becomes the first American to win the World Chess Championship

On September 1, 1972, in what’s billed as the “Match of the Century,” American chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer defeats Russian Boris Spassky during the World Chess Championship in Reykjavik, Iceland.

In the world’s most publicized title match ever played, Fischer, a 29-year-old Brooklynite, became the first American to win the competition since its inception in 1866. The victory also marked the first time a non-Russian had won the event in 24 years.

Fischer, who started playing chess professionally at age 8, won the U.S. Open Championship when he was 14 (he would go on to win it seven more times) and became the world’s youngest international grandmaster at age 15.

Fischer’s skills and age—and demanding, arrogant attitude—made him a pop culture phenomenon. He became the subject of books and movies and even inspired a song, “The Ballad of Bobby Fischer.”

Played during the Cold War, the Reykjavik match also carried political undertones. Fischer had already accused the Soviets of rigging the tournament system and didn’t mince words in his feelings about them, saying the match was “really the free world against the lying, cheating, hypocritical Russians … They always suggest that the world’s leaders should fight it out hand to hand. And that is the kind of thing we are doing.”

Fischer missed the competition’s July 1 opening ceremony, after demanding more money, as well as a cut of TV and film rights. After a two-day delay—and a doubling of the prize purse by British millionaire Jim Slater—Fischer finally showed. A call from Henry Kissinger, national security assistant for President Nixon at the time, may have helped persuade him to compete, as well. “America wants you to go over there to beat the Russians,” he reportedly told Fischer.

“Fischer is known to be graceless, rude, possibly insane,” financier Slater once said. “I really don’t worry about that, because I didn’t do it for that reason. I did it because he was going to challenge the Russian supremacy, and it was good for chess.”

Spassky took the first game (Fischer blamed the TV cameras and ordered them to be removed). Fischer then forfeited the second game after some of his other demands weren’t met. Following much quarreling, the match resumed July 16 with a win by Fischer. Over 21 games, Fischer won seven, Spassky won three, and 11 were draws. Spassky resigned after 40 moves on the 21st game via telephone, with the final score set at 12.5 to 8.5

Fischer took home $156,250 in prize money for the feat, while the Soviet grandmaster Spassky, who was 35 and the reigning world champion, earned $93,750.

Fischer lost his world title by forfeit in 1975, when he refused to play against Soviet Anatoly Karpov in Manila after the competition’s governing body failed to meet all his demands. 

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U.S. hockey team beats the Soviets in the “Miracle on Ice”


Year
1980
Month Day
February 22

In one of the most dramatic upsets in Olympic history, the underdog U.S. hockey team, made up of college players, defeats the four-time defending gold-medal winning Soviet team at the XIII Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York. The Soviet squad, previously regarded as the finest in the world, fell to the youthful American team 4-3 before a frenzied crowd of 10,000 spectators. Two days later, the Americans defeated Finland 4-2 to clinch the hockey gold.

The Soviet team had captured the previous four Olympic hockey golds, going back to 1964, and had not lost an Olympic hockey game since 1968. Three days before the Lake Placid Games began, the Soviets routed the U.S. team 10-3 in an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Americans looked scrappy, but few blamed them for it–their average age, after all, was only 22, and their team captain, Mike Eruzione, was recruited from the obscurity of the Toledo Blades of the International League.

Few had high hopes for the seventh-seeded U.S. team entering the Olympic tournament, but the team soon silenced its detractors, making it through the opening round of play undefeated, with four victories and one tie, thus advancing to the four-team medal round. The Soviets, however, were seeded No. 1 and as expected went undefeated, with five victories in the first round.

On Friday afternoon, February 22, the American amateurs and the Soviet dream team met before a sold-out crowd at Lake Placid. The Soviets broke through first, with their new young star, Valery Krotov, deflecting a slap shot beyond American goalie Jim Craig’s reach in the first period. Midway through the period, Buzz Schneider, the only American who had previously been an Olympian, answered the Soviet goal with a high shot over the shoulder of Vladislav Tretiak, the Soviet goalie.

The relentless Soviet attack continued as the period progressed, with Sergei Makarov giving his team a 2-1 lead. With just a few seconds left in the first period, American Ken Morrow shot the puck down the ice in desperation. Mark Johnson picked it up and sent it into the Soviet goal with one second remaining. After a brief Soviet protest, the goal was deemed good, and the game was tied.

In the second period, the irritated Soviets came out with a new goalie, Vladimir Myshkin, and turned up the attack. The Soviets dominated play in the second period, outshooting the United States 12-2, and taking a 3-2 lead with a goal by Alesandr Maltsev just over two minutes into the period. If not for several remarkable saves by Jim Craig, the Soviet lead would surely have been higher than 3-2 as the third and final 20-minute period began.

Nearly nine minutes into the period, Johnson took advantage of a Soviet penalty and knocked home a wild shot by David Silk to tie the contest again at 3-3. About a minute and a half later, Mike Eruzione, whose last name means “eruption” in Italian, picked up a loose puck in the Soviet zone and slammed it past Myshkin with a 25-foot wrist shot. For the first time in the game, the Americans had the lead, and the crowd erupted in celebration.

There were still 10 minutes of play to go, but the Americans held on, with Craig making a few more fabulous saves. With five seconds remaining, the Americans finally managed to get the puck out of their zone, and the crowd began counting down the final seconds. When the final horn sounded, the players, coaches, and team officials poured onto the ice in raucous celebration. The Soviet players, as awestruck as everyone else, waited patiently to shake their opponents’ hands.

The so-called Miracle on Ice was more than just an Olympic upset; to many Americans, it was an ideological victory in the Cold War as meaningful as the Berlin Airlift or the Apollo moon landing. The upset came at an auspicious time: President Jimmy Carter had just announced that the United States was going to boycott the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and Americans, faced with a major recession and the Iran hostage crisis, were in dire need of something to celebrate. After the game, President Carter called the players to congratulate them, and millions of Americans spent that Friday night in revelry over the triumph of “our boys” over the Russian pros.

As the U.S. team demonstrated in their victory over Finland two days later, they weren’t your run-of-the-mill amateur squad. Three-quarters of the squad were top college players who were on their way to the National Hockey League (NHL), and coach Herb Brooks had trained the team long and hard in a manner that would have made the most authoritative Soviet coach proud. The 1980 U.S. hockey team was probably the best-conditioned American Olympic hockey team of all time–the result of countless hours running skating exercises in preparation for Lake Placid. In their play, the U.S. players adopted passing techniques developed by the Soviets for the larger international hockey rinks, while preserving the rough checking style that was known to throw the Soviets off-guard. It was these factors, combined with an exceptional afternoon of play by Craig, Johnson, Eruzione, and others, that resulted in the miracle at Lake Placid.

This improbable victory was later memorialized in a 2004 film, Miracle, starring Kurt Russell.

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Packers beat Chiefs in first Super Bowl


Year
1967
Month Day
January 15

On January 15, 1967, the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League (NFL) smash the American Football League (AFL)’s Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10, in the first-ever AFL-NFL World Championship, later known as Super Bowl I, at Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles.

Founded in 1960 as a rival to the NFL, the AFL was still finding its way in 1967, and the Packers had been heavily favored to win the game. As 60 million people tuned in to watch the action unfold on television, the Chiefs managed to keep it close for the first half, and by halftime Green Bay was ahead just 14-10. The Chiefs’ only touchdown came in the second quarter, on a seven-yard pass from quarterback Len Dawson to Curtis McClinton.

The Packers, however, proceeded to break the game wide open, after safety Willie Wood intercepted a Dawson pass and returned the ball 50 yards to set up a touchdown. Green Bay scored three more times in the second half, as Elijah Pitts ran in two touchdowns and backup end Max McGee–who came on the field after the starter Boyd Dowler was injured on the sixth play of the game–caught his second touchdown pass of the day. Prior to the game, McGee had made only four receptions all season; he made seven that night, for a total of 138 yards.

The Packers’ famed quarterback, Bryan Bartlett “Bart” Starr, completed 16 of 23 passes on the night. The score at game’s end stood at 35-10, and Starr was named Most Valuable Player. Asked to comment on the match-up after the game, Green Bay Coach Vince Lombardi expressed the common opinion that even the best of the AFL—the Chiefs—“doesn’t compare with the top NFL teams.”

Two years later, the AFL proved itself to doubters by winning its first championship, when Joe Namath led the New York Jets to an upset 16-7 victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. In 1970, the AFL and NFL merged into one league, as the Colts, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers agreed to join the 10 AFL teams to form American Football Conference (AFC). Since then, the Super Bowl has been the annual meeting of the top teams in the AFC and the National Football Conference (NFC) for the championship of the NFL.

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