Tonight's documentary, "Hank Aaron: Chasing The Dream," airing on TBS at 8:05 and again at 10:05, should be a joyous celebration of the life and times of the man who is perhaps the most underrated and underappreciated baseball player of his generation and perhaps all times.
But this brilliant two-hour film carries the weight of the great American shame of racism, which robbed the culture in general and Aaron in particular of the joy of his considerable accomplishments.
When Aaron retired in 1976, after 23 seasons, he left as the all-time leader in three substantive offensive categories, including RBIs (2,297), extra-base hits (1,477) and, of course, home runs with 755.
It is the last accomplishment that should have made Aaron as much a part of the American lexicon as Babe Ruth, the hero he passed, yet the shy, humble outfielder from a small town just outside of Mobile, Ala., has never received the credit he deserved.
Aaron's retiring personality may have stood in the way of getting his due, but "Chasing The Dream" -- narrated by actor Dorian Harewood as Aaron -- meticulously chronicles the real reason: racism.
During his final push to catch and surpass Ruth, Aaron, now an executive with both the Atlanta Braves and TBS, received nearly 3,000 letters a week, many of which were filled with racist invective, death threats and even kidnapping threats against his children.
By the time Aaron slammed his 715th homer in Atlanta on April 8, 1974, the burden of the pursuit, combined with the hatred that was poured on him, so obscured his achievement that he said his feeling on that night was not "joy or excitement I was feeling, [but] more like relief, like I could finally come up for air."
The film, executive produced by an impressive team that includes actor Denzel Washington and Mike Tollin, who also wrote and directed, does a marvelous job, through archival and family films and re-creations, of framing Aaron's life and accomplishments against the climate of his times.
"Chasing the Dream" is true must-see television, not only for baseball fans, but also for anyone with a conscience.
O's TV schedule completed
The over-the-air portion of the Orioles 1995 TV schedule was released yesterday, and channels 13 and 54 will share 63 regular-season telecasts.
Channel 13 will carry 33 Orioles regular-season games, including the season opener from Kansas City on April 26, and the home opener against Milwaukee on May 1. Channel 54 will have 30 games, with its first telecast coming April 27 from Minnesota.
Among Home Team Sports, channels 13 and 54, ESPN and The Baseball Network telecasts, all 144 Orioles games will be available on some broadcast outlet.
One item of note: The folks at Channel 11 will be praying for rain come the first week of September. Barring injury or other unforeseen circumstances, Cal Ripken is due to break Lou Gehrig's consecutive games mark on Sept. 6 in a game to be televised on HTS.
But with one or two rainouts, the game would fall on a Friday night, which is covered by the Baseball Network, which for that week would be NBC, whose Baltimore affiliate is Channel 11.
Who rules college roost?
Need any more proof that television is the all-powerful behemoth in sports? Consider that in a College Sports magazine survey of the 10 most powerful figures in college athletics, six of them have television connections.
The list was topped jointly by CBS Sports president David Kenin and programming vice president Len DeLuca. ESPN senior vice president for programming John Wildhack was rated fourth; David Downs, ABC Sports' senior vice president for programming, was seventh; and Rick Ray, the chief executive officer of syndicator Raycom, was eighth. Tenth on the list was basketball analyst Dick Vitale.