In May 1971, I was into my second year of Air Force duty in California, enjoying the amazing riches of that part of the country with the nagging realization that I could be shipped overseas on a moment's notice.
Linda and I had been married just before heading west and we were eagerly awaiting the birth of our first child, due in the fall of 1971. We had already decided on a boy's name - Aaron Guthrie, named after my favorite baseball player, Hank Aaron, and folk singer Woody Guthrie, who was the inspiration for another of my favorites, Bob Dylan.
Guthrie had died a few years earlier but Aaron was not only alive and well, he was making a serious run at eclipsing Babe Ruth's major league career home run record. And his Atlanta Braves team was making two trips to San Francisco, just 40 miles from our home, that summer.
The second trip in late July was just a little too close to Linda's due date, so I decided we should catch the Braves in May. We settled on May 9, a Sunday, when the Giants and Braves were scheduled for an afternoon doubleheader. I should probably point out that Linda is not a sports fan and I don't generally recommend ushering any 5-months pregnant woman to an event she's not wholly in sync with, but my enthusiasm apparently overcame any reservations she may have had.
We loaded up a cooler with food and drinks, which was allowed in the cheap seats in those days. Those cheap seats were the bleachers in left field and went for $2 a head. It was quite a hike from the Candlestick Park parking lot to the bleachers, but we did our best to blend in with our fellow bleacherites. This was difficult, given their rowdy behavior and the pungency of the air in our immediate vicinity.
Truth is, we could have left the cooler at home. Cokes, popcorn and peanuts went for just a quarter, a hot dog cost 40 cents and a beer was just 50 cents. Those were bargain prices, at a time when free agency was still being debated in the courts and million dollar salaries were still years away.
Despite the fact that there were 10 Hall of Famers at Candlestick that day, none of them earned as much as baseball's highest-paid player in 1971 - Boston's Carl Yastrzemski. Yaz pulled own $167,000 that year - a pittance by current standards, but well above Major League Baseball's 1971 average salary of $31,500.
As I mentioned, there were 10 Hall of Famers present in Candlestick on May 9, 1971 - five on each team. That includes Carl Hubbell, the Giants' farm system director and screwball pitcher who fanned five straight American Leaguers in the 1934 All-Star Game. On the field were Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry.
The Braves, of course, had Hank Aaron and his longtime teammate, Edie Mathews, who was now a coach. Orlando Cepeda, who banged out 46 home runs and drove in 142 runs as a Giant in 1961 and was National League MVP for the Cardinals in 1967, was now playing first base for the Braves. Other Hall of Famers on the Braves roster that day were pitchers Phil Niekro and 47-year-old Hoyt Wilhelm, who was in the 20th of his 21 major league seasons.
The Giants' roster was peppered with a few other notables that day. Bobby Bonds, who rapped 332 home runs in a 14-year career, is probably more famous for being the father of disgraced Giants slugger Barry Bonds. Rookie pitcher Steve Stone, a 25-game winner for the Baltimore Orioles in 1980, is probably better known as a Chicago broadcaster, first with the Cubs, later with the White Sox. George Foster was a 22-year-old outfielder who would be NL MVP just six years later with Cincinnati and Don McMahon, the ex-Braves relief ace was in the twilight years of a career that would see him post an amazing 2.96 ERA over 874 major league games.
For the most part, the players didn't disappoint. In the first game, Mays slapped a home run that landed near us in a 5-2 Giants' win. McCovey homered for the Giants in the second game with a moon shot that rattled in the right field bleachers so loudly that you could hear it over the Grateful Dead music being played on a tinny tape deck in our vicinity. Fortunately, Cepeda countered that with a pair homers himself, driving in five runs that allowed the Braves to escape with a split. 6-5.
Our baby did, indeed, turn out to be a boy and we did name him Aaron Guthrie. A few years later, when Hank Aaron was touring the country with the home run ball that broke Ruth's home run record, I had the opportunity to introduce our son to him. I'm sure neither Aaron remember the encounter, but I was as proud as a papa can be.
As I recall, Linda had picked the name Stephanie in case we had a daughter. If that name was inspired by a popular ballerina or opera singer, I guess I would have gone to the ballet or something, but I don't think that was the case.
I sure lucked out on that one.
Photo: Linda Lehmer with Aaron Guthrie Lehmer at David Grant Memorial Hospital, Travis AFB, California, September 1971.
Larry Lehmer is a retired Des Moines Register editor and author of The Day the Music Died: The Last Tour of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. He is currently working on a book about the Philadelphia years of American Bandstand. You can read his Bandstand blog here.