Atlanta Bullpen Pitcher Catches Famous Home Run
By BILL HENDRICK
Associated Press Writer
ATLANTA (AP) - "Someday when I'm an old man watching television I'll see myself on the other end of history," said Tom House, a reserve pitcher for the Atlanta Braves who caught Henry Aaron's record-setting 715th homerun Monday night.
The 25-year-old Californian said he was thrilled just to witness the event, much less be a part of it. He said it was the high point of his baseball career.
"I was hoping in spring training that I'd get a chance to make the club just to see him, to see the record set," said House, who had a 4-2 record for the Braves last season.
"I looked up and there it was, coming in my direction,"' said the young pitcher, who leaned against the left-center field wall to make the catch in the bullpen. "I thought, it's coming to me, it's coming to me. "All the ball players let me have it. I saw it coming all the way and I caught it right at the base of the backwall," House said. "I caught-it and all I could think about was putting it in Hank's hand." The blonde-haired pitcher said he had jokingly told Aaron before the game that he would retrieve the historic home run but never really believed he would have a chance at it.
"I told him, "Hammer, if I get it, I'm going to put it in your hand. And that's what I did," he said.
After the 400-foot shot, when Aaron's teammates converged on him as the sellout crowd of more than 53,000 roared its approval, House kept his jestful promise.
"I put it right in Hank's hand," the young pitcher said. "He said, 'Thanks, kid," when I gave it to him. It was a very emotional moment for him and me, too," said House, who added he wasn't sure if Aaron knew his name or not.
Rewards ranging from $25,000 to $36,000 had been offered for the home run ball, but House said he never considered doing anything but giving it to Aaron. "I'll admit, I didn't do the businessman-like thing. I figured it was a mighty expensive decision. But I am sure that anyone else who could have got it (in the bullpen) would have done the same thing."
House holds a masters degree in marketing from the University of Southern California. Before the game, pitchers in the bullpen discussed what they would do if Aaron's homer landed in their territory.
"We kidded around a lot, but I think anybody would have done what I did. The decision I made at the time was the right one.
"As far as baseball is concerned, this is the biggest thing that has ever happened to me," said House.
Magnavox Television Corp.-which sponsors Aaron--offered to give House the TV set of his choice after he gave the ball to the slugger. "I wasn't expecting anything, so this is better than nothing. All the talk about money was just kidding. For being a fringe player, just being able to play with Henry is reward enough," House said.
The historic shot triggered 11 minutes of bedlam in Atlanta Stadium as a standing room only crowd of 53,775 cheered the soft-spoken Alabama native who claimed baseball's most cherished record. A call of congratulations came from President Nixon while the famous No. 44 was still in the game.
Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who ordered the Braves to play Aaron in Cincinnati Sunday, called him "one of the greatest we have ever seen."
Kuhn's order renewed a controversy. Aaron's 34-ounce bat probably ended it, at least temporarily. It undoubtedly will be remembered for years.
"If God didn't see fit for me to hit the home run here, then I would have hit it somewhere else," Aaron said at a post- game news conference. Did he feel a big weight had been lifted from his back? "Oh, you don't know," he replied. "This would have to be my top thrill in baseball," said the man who holds more than a dozen major league records. "It wasn't one of my better ones, but the wind helped to carry it," he said. "I hit it fairly good. It was a fast ball. It was inside, but I think he wanted it further inside. He just hung it a little."
Downing, a 13-year-veteran who had yielded only two other homers to Aaron, left the game after walking the next two hitters following Hammerin' Hank's blast that drew the Braves even at 3-3.
Atlanta went on to win the game, 7-4. The Dodger hurler vanished from the ball park, leaving behind only a tape-recorded message in which he said, "Like a great hitter,when he picks his pitch, he's pretty certain that's the pitch he's looking for and chances are he's going to hit it pretty good."