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By Lauren Gerson - Flickr, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The Time Hank Aaron’s Bodyguard Didn’t Shoot

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By Lauren Gerson - Flickr, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron (who was born 83 years ago on February 5, 1934) sent a 1-0 pitch from Al Downing over the outfield wall. It was Aaron’s 715th career homer—Babe Ruth was no longer the home run king.

Aaron’s blast was one of the most iconic plays in baseball history, but it wasn’t the only clutch performance that night. His bodyguard, Calvin Wardlaw, made a snap decision that ensured Aaron’s big moment would be remembered as a happy one.

Racial tensions were high as Aaron chased Ruth’s record; some white fans were uncomfortable that an African American ballplayer was hot on the heels of the beloved Babe. For Aaron, the atmosphere wasn't just tense, but dangerous. The Braves were receiving so many letters addressed to Aaron as he approached the 715 mark that the U.S. Post Office gave him a plaque for receiving more mail than any other American (not including politicians). A frighteningly high number of these envelopes contained vicious, violent hate mail. Even his daughter received death threats at college. Because of all this, Aaron stayed in a different hotel from his teammates and was followed everywhere by Wardlaw.

On the night of the historic homer, Wardlaw was in the stands, watching out for Aaron with a .38 pistol in his binocular case. After the ball cleared the outfield wall a strange thing happened: Two young white men, high school seniors from Waycross, Georgia, somehow made it down on to the field and ran right alongside Aaron as he rounded the bases. We now know them as just a pair of excited fans bent on commemorating the occasion with a feat of their own, but in the moment and amid all the tension, they posed a potential danger. Wardlaw had to gauge how threatening they were and whether to draw his gun and fire.

In 2007, Wardlaw described his thought process to the New York Daily News: "People asked me afterward, 'Where were you for the big moment, Calvin?' And I tell them that my instinct was at that moment that even if I could have gotten out there, my man was not in danger. And I tell them something else: What if I had decided to shoot my two-barreled .38 at those two boys, if I thought he was in a life-threatening situation, and had hit Hank Aaron instead, on the night he hit No. 715?"

Wardlaw kept his gun in its inconspicuous hiding spot and joined the crowd of teammates swarming the slugger at home plate. The bodyguard congratulated his charge, saying, "I'm glad it's over."

This post originally appeared in 2015.

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Great Big Story, Youtube
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video
Seattle Mariners Fans Are Going Crazy for These Crunchy Grasshopper Snacks
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Great Big Story, Youtube

Seattle Mariners fans have more than warmed up to the newest, offbeat addition to the Safeco Field concessions menu: toasted grasshoppers covered in chili-lime salt.

The crunchy snack, which sells for $4 and comes packed in a small container, has only been available for less than a season but has already sold 300,000-plus orders to date. That's about 1000 pounds of grasshoppers. 

Frequenters of Seattle's popular Mexican restaurant Poquitos will know that this delicacy—which first started as a novelty item on its menu—has actually been available to the public for six years. But it wasn't until local chef Ethan Stowell was hired to give the Safeco Field menu a hip retooling that the salty bugs found new, fervent popularity at the ballpark. (Also on the Safeco menu: fried oysters drizzled in hot sauce.)

Great Big Story met up with Manny Arce, the executive chef of Poquitos and visionary behind this culinary home run, to discuss the popularity of these crunchy critters. You can watch the video interview below:

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Denis Poroy/Getty Images
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History
The First High Five Recorded in the History of Sports
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Denis Poroy/Getty Images

We don’t quite know who invented the high five—but we can pinpoint the moment it became inextricably linked with sports, which the short documentary The High Five explores below.

On October 2, 1977, Los Angeles Dodgers leftfielder Dusty Baker scored his 30th home run, making the team the first in history to have four players—Baker, Ron Cey, Steve Garvey, and Reggie Smith—with at least 30 homers under each of their belts. Fellow outfielder Glenn Burke was so overwhelmed with joy and pride, he raised his arm and slapped his flat palm against the victorious athlete’s own palm. The moment transformed Baker and Burke into legends.

Sadly, the latter player faced hard times ahead: Burke was gay, and it’s believed that his sexuality prompted team officials to trade him to the Oakland A's the following year. In Oakland, Burke clashed with team manager Billy Martin, then retired early from baseball. Today, Burke is remembered for his charisma and talent—and for transforming a simple gesture into a universal symbol. “To think his energy and personality was the origin of that, that’s a pretty good legacy,” sportswriter Lyle Spencer says in the film.

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