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Hank Aaron wows other baseball greats: King swoops in, misses a bday, for Milo Hamilton's night

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Milo Hamilton tribute, October 2012, Milo Hamilton
Milo Hamilton had his night. Milo Hamilton Photo by © Chinh Phan
Milo Hamilton tribute, October 2012, Hank Aaron, Craig Biggio
Hank Aaron's presence stole the show and turned even Craig Biggio into a gushing fan. Hank Aaron, Craig Biggio Photo by © Chinh Phan
Milo Hamilton tribute, October 2012, Debbie Clemens, Roger Clemens
Roger Clemens and his wife Debbie made it. Debbie Clemens, Roger Clemens Photo by © Chinh Phan
Milo Hamilton tribute, October 2012, Nolan Ryan
So did Nolan Ryan. Nolan Ryan Photo by © Chinh Phan
Milo Hamilton tribute, October 2012, Bill White, Franci Crane
But Milo Hamilton credited Franci Crane (shown here with former mayor Bill White) with making it all happen. Bill White, Franci Crane Photo by © Chinh Phan
Milo Hamilton tribute, October 2012, Sarah Pope, Michael Pope, Caroline Chapman
Fans like Sarah Pope, Michael Pope and Caroline Chapman couldn't get enough. Sarah Pope, Michael Pope, Caroline Chapman Photo by © Chinh Phan
Milo Hamilton tribute, October 2012, Milo Hamilton
Milo Hamilton tribute, October 2012, Hank Aaron, Craig Biggio
Milo Hamilton tribute, October 2012, Debbie Clemens, Roger Clemens
Milo Hamilton tribute, October 2012, Nolan Ryan
Milo Hamilton tribute, October 2012, Bill White, Franci Crane
Milo Hamilton tribute, October 2012, Sarah Pope, Michael Pope, Caroline Chapman
News_Chris Baldwin_managing editor_arms crossed

Bud Selig may be baseball's commissioner, but Hank Aaron is the closest thing the game has to royalty (with apologies to Stan Musial). That much became apparent from the moment the man many still consider to be the Last Legitimate Home Run King swoops into Minute Maid Park on a rainy Tuesday night.

Aaron is there to honor Milo Hamilton, who is retiring from full-time broadcasting after 28 seasons calling Houston Astros games and six decades on the air overall.

But Aaron is the one who ends up leaving many of the other baseball greats in the building — a list that includes Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens and Craig Biggio — feeling starstruck.

"To tell you the truth Milo, I came tonight because Henry Aaron is sitting at my table," Biggio says in his turn at the microphone. "Are you kidding me? If you really want to feel bad about your career compare your stats to Henry Aaron's stats."

 You want a testament to Hamilton's impact? Consider the lengths Aaron went — and the permissions he asked — to be in Houston. 

There are a lot of tributes to the 85-year-old Hall of Fame broadcaster in this appropriately titled "Holy Toledo, A Blue Star Gala" night held on a white set laid over the field. But Aaron's presence is by far the most powerful.

You want a testament to Hamilton's impact? Consider the lengths Aaron went — and the permissions he asked — to be in Houston.

"I wouldn't miss this for anything in the world," Aaron says, looking as dignified as ever in a sharp dark suit and black sweater combination. "Being here with Milo on his night is special."

Milo's night happens to be the same night as the 76th birthday of Aaron's wife Billye. And it turns out that even being one of the greatest players in baseball history doesn't exempt a man from having to be careful with the negotiation of something like this.

Aaron found himself asking: Is it OK if we go hang with Milo?

He made it. "Sweetie, thank you so much," Aaron laughs.

Hammerin' Hank and the voice of the Astros will be forever linked by the record-breaking 715th home run call Hamilton made as the Atlanta Braves broadcaster in 1974. As Aaron tells Hamilton in front of a crowd of more than 500 people, "Your voice goes with me all over the world."

Later with a few reporters, Aaron admits he probably didn't fully appreciate Milo's now-iconic call at the time. "I don't know if I even nearly remember hearing it then," Aaron says. But as the years went on and the call kept getting played over and over again whenever Aaron made an appearance, or was talked about on TV, he found the brilliance in Hamilton's delivery.

 It turns out Aaron always had something of a soft spot for Houston too. "The people here were just tremendous," he says. 

One thing Aaron always appreciated is Hamilton's friendship.

It was a different time in baseball back then — a different time in America — and in an almost quiet moment on his night, Hamilton, as a good storyteller is wont to do, finds himself reflecting on Aaron's consistent courage. The man so beloved now received a slew of racist death threats as he approached Babe Ruth's storied career home record in the 1970s.

Yet in all of Aaron and Hamilton's talks, the slugger never brought it up — until after he hit 715.

"You knew something was going on, but you didn't know exactly what," Hamilton says. "There always was a detective with him on the road. And he'd stay in a different hotel than the team under an assumed name."

Still, as Hamilton marvels, Aaron didn't lose his hair a la Roger Maris. He certainly didn't complain. He never let the pressure rule him.

It turns out Aaron always had something of a soft spot for Houston too. All those road games over the years left an impression. "The people here were just tremendous," he says.

A Woman's Vision

Hamilton swears that he never expected a night close to this tremendous for himself. The man who called Mike Scott's division-clinching no-hitter and Biggio's 3,000th hit says he assumed he'd "just sink into the sunset."

Franci Crane — the wife of Astros owner Jim Crane — wasn't going to let that happen though.

 "To tell you the truth Milo, I came tonight because Henry Aaron is sitting at my table. Are you kidding me?" 

"This is really her idea," Hamilton says. Franci Crane planned it for most of a year (with Jim Crane asking Aaron to attend), even thinking to have orchestra music from the 1940s and 1950s (Hamilton's favorite music) playing. "Every time I'd ask what was going on, they'd tell me to just show up," Hamilton laughs.

Hamilton shows up — and so does a line of baseball greats (new Astros manager Bo Porter even makes a surprise non-speaking appearance) and two mayors (Bill White and a fashionably late Annise Parker). But the night isn't without lighthearted moments. Amid the serious broadcaster video tributes, Giants commentator Mike Krukow looks straight into the camera and deadpans, "Milo, I thought you were dead  . . . Congratulations on not being dead."

Hamilton shakes his head at that one. It's a good night to be a baseball lifer.

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