Kyle Arbuckle, Warren Kember and Brett Lake teamed up last year to dig through Emory’s collection of Hank Aaron materials, donated in 2013 by a former scout for the Atlanta Braves. The collection includes scouting reports, contracts and sometimes nasty letters Aaron received as he chased Babe Ruth’s home run record.
Today marks the 40th anniversary of his 715th home run, one better than Ruth. His record of 755 stood for decades until Barry Bonds passed it with 762.
The reports included scouts’ critiques of Aaron that the Emory juniors have heard about their own play.
“Soft hands.” “Can’t run.” “No chance for power.”
Turns out, athletes at every level know the sting of criticism.
The students were the first to look at some of the documents in Emory’s collection, said Pellom McDaniels, an assistant professor of African-American Studies and curator of African-American collections at Emory. It’s rare for undergraduates to be as engaged with library collections as the teammates became, especially without getting course credit for the work, McDaniels said.
But they saw themselves in the yellowing paperwork, especially the scouting reports.
The exhibit the students created using the library materials opens April 24 at the university’s Robert W. Woodruff Library.
Kember got the project started after he attended a lecture series on race in sports culture. He went to McDaniels the next day and asked to look at the collection on Aaron.
“I was just like a kid in the candy store flipping through the scouting reports,” said Kember, 21.
They all were horrified by the negative and occasionally threatening letters that Aaron received.
But the item that stands out most for Arbuckle, 20, and Lake, 21, is a photo taken at the moment Aaron hit his 715th home run. A screen in the outfield reads “Move over Babe.”
Arbuckle said he has heard stories of what it was like to play at that time from his godfather, Dusty Baker, who was a teammate of Aaron’s in 1974 and went on to spend almost 20 years in the majors before later managing several teams.
Reading the messages to Aaron and looking at the photographs was a reminder of how far the sport has come in 40 years, he said.