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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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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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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Football fans crushed in stadium stampede


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Year
1971
Month Day
January 02

On January 2, 1971, 66 football (soccer) fans are killed in a stampede at a stadium in Glasgow, Scotland, as they attempt to leave a game after a late goal by the home team. Initial reports suggested that the disaster was caused by fans returning to their seats after hearing of the last goal, but in fact it was simply the crush of spectators all leaving at the same time on the same stairway that led to tragedy. This was not the first time that disaster had struck the stadium.

Ibrox Stadium was built on the south side of Glasgow in 1900 and suffered its first serious incident only two years later. Just minutes into a match between England and Scotland on April 5, 1902, the weight of the fans on the stadium’s wooden west terrace caused a partial collapse of the structure. Dozens of spectators fell 45 feet to the ground. To make matters worse, the collapse caused a general panic and hundreds of people were injured in the subsequent rush to the exits.

In September 1961, a crush of fans on stairway 13 killed two people and injured scores of others. This same stairway was the site of eight serious injuries at a match in September 1967 and 24 more injuries in January 1969. Still, no design or safety changes had been made to the stairway by the time the Rangers played a home match against Celtic on January 2, 1971, in front of 80,000 fans.

The game was a scoreless tie until Celtic took the lead with minutes left. However, Ranger Colin Stein scored the equalizer with just seconds remaining and the excited home crowd exited quickly on the cold, misty afternoon. At the top of stairway 13, a few metal railings bent and collapsed with the weight of the crowd, and people began to fall forward down the stairs. Sixty-six people–65 men and one woman, 18-year-old Margaret Ferguson–were suffocated and crushed to death in the resulting chaos. Another 145 were seriously injured.

This was the worst soccer disaster in Scottish history and the worst ever in the United Kingdom until 96 people died in Hillsborough in 1989.

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Tiger Woods apologizes for extramarital affairs


Year
2010
Month Day
February 19

On February 19, 2010, professional golfer Tiger Woods gives a televised news conference in which he apologizes for his marital infidelities and admits to “selfish” and “foolish” behavior. The 34-year-old Woods, one of the greatest players in the history of golf as well as one of the world’s highest-paid athletes, read a scripted statement at PGA headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, before a pre-selected audience that included his mother but not his Swedish-born wife, Elin Nordegren. Members of the media were present but were not allowed to ask questions.

Woods’ statement marked the first time he had spoken publicly since crashing his car into a fire hydrant and tree near his home in Windermere, Florida, an Orlando suburb, around 2:30 a.m. on November 27, 2009. The low-speed, single-car crash left him briefly hospitalized. Nordegren reportedly told police she heard the crash from the couple’s home, went outside and smashed the rear window of Woods’ Cadillac Escalade in an attempt to extricate him. After the accident, Woods initially declined to speak with Florida Highway Patrol officers and issued no immediate public statement, sparking rumors and speculation about why he was leaving his house at that hour. At the time of the incident, a tabloid newspaper was reporting allegations that Woods had cheated on his wife.

In the days and weeks following the car crash, Woods saw his stellar reputation shattered as more than a dozen young women came forward to publicly claim they had been romantically involved with the married golfer, who wed Nordegren in 2004. Woods and his wife met in 2001, while she was working as a nanny for Swedish golf pro Jesper Parnevik.

On April 8, 2010, less than two months after Woods’ apology-filled Florida news conference, he returned to professional golf by competing in the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia. The event received widespread coverage, and Woods finished the tournament tied for fourth place.

Four months later, in August, Woods and his wife officially divorced. Nordegren, with whom Woods has two children, reportedly received a $100 million settlement.

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U.S. figure skating team killed in plane crash


Year
1961
Month Day
February 15

On February 15, 1961, the entire 18-member U.S. figure skating team is killed in a plane crash in Berg-Kampenhout, Belgium. The team was on its way to the 1961 World Figure Skating Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

Among those killed in the crash was 16-year-old Laurence Owen, who had won the U.S. Figure Skating Championship in the ladies’ division the previous month. She was featured on the February 13, 1961, cover of Sports Illustrated, which called her the “most exciting U.S. skater.” Bradley Long, the 1961 U.S. men’s champion, also perished in the crash, as did Maribel Owen (Laurence’s sister) and Dudley Richards, the 1961 U.S. pairs champions, and Diane Sherbloom and Larry Pierce, the 1961 U.S. ice dancing champions. Also killed was 49-year-old Maribel Vinson-Owen, a nine-time U.S. ladies’ champion and 1932 Olympic bronze medalist, who coached scores of skaters, including her daughters Maribel and Laurence. Vinson-Owen also coached Frank Carroll, who went on to coach the 2010 men’s Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek and nine-time U.S. champion Michelle Kwan.

In addition to the skaters, 16 people accompanying them, including family, friends, coaches and officials, were killed. The other 38 passengers and crew aboard Sabena Flight 548, which left New York on the night of February 14, also died when the plane went down around 10 a.m. in clear weather while attempting to make a scheduled stopover landing at the Belgian National Airport in Brussels. One person on the ground, a farmer working in the field where the Boeing 707 crashed in Berg-Kampenhout, several miles from the airport, was killed by some shrapnel. Investigators were unable to determine the exact cause of the crash, although mechanical difficulties were suspected.

The tragedy devastated the U.S. figure skating program and meant the loss of the country’s top skating talent. Prior to the crash, the U.S. had won the men’s gold medal at every Olympics since 1948 (when Dick Button became the first American man to do so), while U.S. women had claimed Olympic gold in 1956 and 1960. After the crash, an American woman (Peggy Fleming) would not capture Olympic gold until 1968, while a U.S. man (Scott Hamilton) would not do so until 1984.

The incident was the worst air disaster involving a U.S. sports team until November 1970, when 37 players on the Marshall University football team were killed in a plane crash in West Virginia.

Shortly after the 1961 crash, the U.S. Figure Skating Memorial Fund was established; to date, it has provided financial assistance to thousands of elite American skaters. In 2011, the 50th anniversary of the tragedy, the 18 members of the 1961 figure skating team, along with the 16 people traveling with them to Prague, were inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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National Hockey League (NHL) opens its first season


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Year
1917
Month Day
December 19

On December 19, 1917, four teams of the National Hockey League (NHL) play in the fledgling league’s first two games. At the time of its inception, the NHL was made up of five franchises: the Canadiens and the Wanderers (both of Montreal), the Ottawa Senators, the Quebec Bulldogs and the Toronto Arenas. The Montreal teams won two victories that first day, as the Canadiens beat Ottawa 7-4 and the Wanderers triumphed over Toronto 10-9.

The first professional ice hockey league was the International Pro Hockey League, founded in 1904 in Michigan. After it folded, two bigger leagues emerged in Canada: the National Hockey Association (NHA) and the Pacific Coast League (PCL). In 1914, the two leagues played a championship series, and the winner was awarded the famous silver bowl donated for Canada’s amateur hockey leagues by Lord Stanley, the English governor general of Canada, in 1892. The NHA stopped operating during World War I, and after the war the five elite teams from Canada formed the NHL in its place. Despite that early defeat, Toronto went on to win the inaugural season. In March 1918, they defeated the PCL champions, the Vancouver Millionaires, three games to two for the Stanley Cup.

By 1926, the PCL had folded, and the 10 teams of the NHL divided into two divisions. The champions of each those two divisions–the Eastern and the Western Conference–now face each other at the end of each season in the Stanley Cup Championship.

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First Winter Olympics


Year
1924
Month Day
January 25

On January 25, 1924, the first Winter Olympics take off in style at Chamonix in the French Alps. Spectators were thrilled by the ski jump and bobsled as well as 12 other events involving a total of six sports. The “International Winter Sports Week,” as it was known, was a great success, and in 1928 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) officially designated the Winter Games, staged in St. Moritz, Switzerland, as the second Winter Olympics.

Five years after the birth of the modern Olympics in 1896, the first organized international competition involving winter sports was staged in Sweden. Called the Nordic Games, only Scandinavian countries competed. Like the Olympics, it was staged thereon every four years but always in Sweden. In 1908, figure skating made its way into the Summer Olympics in London, though it was not actually held until October, some three months after the other events were over.

In 1911, the IOC proposed the staging of a separate winter competition for the 1912 Stockholm Games, but Sweden, wanting to protect the popularity of the Nordic Games, declined. Germany planned a Winter Olympics to precede the 1916 Berlin Summer Games, but World War I forced the cancellation of both. At the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium, ice hockey joined figure skating as an official Olympic event, and Canada took home the first of many hockey gold medals. Soon after, an agreement was reached with Scandinavians to stage the IOC-sanctioned International Winter Sports Week. It was so popular among the 16 participating nations that, in 1925, the IOC formally created the Winter Olympics, retroactively making Chamonix the first.

In Chamonix, Scandinavians dominated the speed rinks and slopes, and Norway won the unofficial team competition with 17 medals. The United States came in third, winning its only gold medal with Charles Jewtraw’s victory in the 500-meter speed-skating event. Canada won another hockey gold, scoring 110 goals and allowing just three goals in five games. Of the nearly 300 athletes, only 13 were women, and they only competed in the figure-skating events. Austrian Helene Engelmann won the pairs competition with Alfred Berger, and Austrian Herma Planck Szabo won the women’s singles. The Olympics offered a particular boost to skiing, a sport that would make enormous strides within the next decade. At Chamonix, Norway won all but one of the nine skiing medals.

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Jack Johnson wins heavyweight title


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Year
1908
Month Day
December 26

Jack Johnson becomes the first African American to win the world heavyweight title when he knocks out Canadian Tommy Burns in the 14th round in a championship bout near Sydney, Australia. Johnson, who held the heavyweight title until 1915, was reviled by whites for his defiance of the “Jim Crow” racial conventions of early 20th-century America.

The boxer that is still remembered as the greatest defensive boxer in heavyweight history was born in Galveston, Texas, in 1878. Johnson dropped out of school after fifth grade and worked the docks of Galveston before taking up professional boxing. He proved himself a powerful fighter, but the rarity of champion white boxers agreeing to meet black challengers limited his opportunities and purses. In 1903, Johnson won the “Colored Heavyweight Championship of the World” and the next year issued a challenge to Jim Jeffries, the white American who held the world title at the time. Jeffries refused to meet him, and it was not until 1908 that Tommy Burns agreed to give Johnson a shot at the more prestigious white heavyweight title.

The boxers met at Rushcutter’s Bay on the outskirts of Sydney on December 26, 1908. Few of the 20,000 spectators gathered there cheered Johnson as he dominated Burns and became the heavyweight champion of the world. Johnson’s reception upon returning to the United States was equally lukewarm, and racists were appalled by his marriage to a white woman. Johnson refused to keep a low profile in the face of criticism of his color and character, and instead took on an excessively flamboyant lifestyle. He drove flashy sports cars, flaunted gold teeth that went with his gold-handled walking stick, and engaged in numerous, overlapping romances with women–all of them white. Reporters began calling for a “Great White Hope” to put the heavyweight title back in a white man’s hands.

Johnson defeated several U.S. challengers, and in 1910 Jim Jeffries agreed to come out of retirement to try to beat the black boxer. In a fight held at Reno, Nevada, on July 4, 1910, Johnson became the first boxer to knock down Jeffries, and in the 15th round Jeffries’ corner threw in the towel. The outcome of the match prompted racial violence and rioting across the United States.

In 1912, Johnson was convicted of transporting an unmarried woman across state lines for “immoral purposes,” a law that was drafted primarily to prevent prostitution and the white slavery trade–not to prevent a black boxer and nightclub owner from having an affair with his white secretary. Johnson was sentenced to a year in prison and released on bond pending an appeal. He took the opportunity to flee the United States disguised as a member of a black baseball team.

Johnson lived in exile for the next seven years and continued to defend his title in bouts in Europe and elsewhere. On April 5, 1915, he lost the heavyweight title when he was knocked out by white American Jess Willard in the 20th round of a fight in Havana, Cuba. There were rumors that Johnson threw the championship in order to have the charges against him dropped. The charges were not dropped, however, and when Johnson returned to the United States in 1920 he was arrested by U.S. marshals. He was sent to a federal prison in Kansas to serve his year sentence.

After his release, Johnson boxed occasionally but never regained his former stature. His fortunes steadily diminished, and near the end of his life he worked as a vaudeville and carnival performer. He died in a car accident in 1946.

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