Monument to Henry Aaron’s 715th home run

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    Photo: William Arnett, 1986
Concrete, plaster, and paint

The last piece added to the garden was the monument to Henry Aaron’s 715th home run. The Atlanta-Fulton Country Stadium is a few blocks away. For months, Bailey worked openly in his front yard to create the piece, as if to stress the irrefutable inevitability of this second-generation “black first”—for Aaron was not among the first to participate in the major leagues, but instead had the distinction of toppling the greatest and most famous record in American sports. That Bailey finished the piece the night of Number 715 (the applauding roar of the stadium’s crowd could be heard) makes this a performance commemorative piece concerned with the real “numbers game” of black aspirations. It breaks a cycle of belief, not just belief in black inferiority, but also in the intrinsic power of the “numbers” themselves. The digits in 715 add up to thirteen, an “unlucky” number that makes 715 a series that would be avoided by players of “The Bug.” Aaron raps these sustaining superstitions out of the park. Though Aaron is in many ways Bailey’s most literal and direct theme, by the time of it’s creation in 1974 such a monument exuded fewer openly threatening connotations than public vernacular homages to say, a Joe Louis would have had in the 1930s, those to a Jackie Robinson would have had in the early 1950s, or those to a Muhammad Ali would have had in the 1960s. (Aaron nevertheless faced a certain amount of harassment and threats as he approached Ruth’s mark.)