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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Stampede kills 84 at World Cup match

Year
1996
Month Day
October 16

A stampede of soccer fans before a World Cup qualifying match in Guatemala City kills 84 people and seriously injures more than 100 on October 16, 1996.

The Guatemala national team was set to face off against Costa Rica on a Wednesday night in Guatemala City. Approximately 60,000 fans, most dressed in blue and white, the country’s traditional colors, came to the stadium, which has a capacity of only 45,000. Apparently, counterfeiters had sold thousands of fake tickets to the event.

Although the stadium was already full to capacity about an hour before the match was scheduled to begin, fans continued to push their way into the venue through a narrow passage. As those in front of them had nowhere to go, people began to be crushed and suffocated. Fist fights that broke out in the crowd exacerbated the situation, which ended in a panicked stampede.

Guatemala’s President Alvara Arzu witnessed the chaos from a box seat and called off the match. However, it was too late for 83 people, including many children. The bodies of the victims, some with their clothes torn off, lined the grounds of the stadium afterward as scores of injured received medical treatment.

Pope John Paul II sent a message of condolence to the relatives of the victims. President Arzu declared three days of national mourning. “What does football matter now?” said Guatemala’s head coach, Horacio Cordero.

The Guatemala City stampede was not unique; there were at least four stampedes at soccer matches that killed more than 40 people in the 1980s and 1990s.

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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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Dick Fosbury flops to an Olympic high jump record

Year
1968
Month Day
October 20

On October 20, 1968, 21-year-old Oregonian Dick Fosbury wins gold—and sets an Olympic record—when he high-jumps 7 feet 4 1/4 inches at the Mexico City Games. It was the first American victory in the event since 1956. It was also the international debut of Fosbury’s unique jumping style, known as the “Fosbury Flop.”

The Flop, according to one journalist, “looked like a guy falling off the back of a truck.” Instead of the traditional scissors- or straddle-style forward kick over the bar, it featured a midair rotation so that the jumper landed back-of-the-head-first on the mat. Fosbury described it this way: “I take off on my right, or outside, foot rather than my left foot. Then I turn my back to the bar, arch my back over the bar and then kick my legs out to clear the bar.” It looked odd, but it worked better than any other technique.

Fosbury had invented his Flop in high school, when he discovered that, though he was terrible at the scissors-kick, the straddle and the belly-roll, if he stretched out on his back and landed headfirst, he could jump higher than anyone on his high-school track team. “The advantage,” he said, “from a physics standpoint is, it allows the jumper to run at the bar with more speed and, with the arch in your back, you could actually clear the bar and keep your center of gravity at or below the bar, so it was much more efficient.” At Oregon State University, he used the Flop to win the 1968 NCAA title and the Olympic Trials.

“I think quite a few kids will begin trying it my way now,” he said when the Games were over. “I don’t guarantee my results, and I don’t recommend my style to anyone. All I say is if a kid can’t straddle, he can try it my way.” And indeed, kids everywhere began to practice the Flop over the backs of their sofas and into piles of leaves in the yard. Parents and coaches worried that Fosbury’s technique was dangerous—U.S. Olympic Coach Pat Jordan even warned that it would “wipe out an entire generation of high jumpers because they will all have broken necks”—but the Flop soon became standard practice at track meets. Within a decade, almost every elite high-jumper was doing it Fosbury’s way. 

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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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