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Milo honored by Astros after 28 years behind the mic

HOUSTON -- When the great Hank Aaron became baseball's all-time home run king by hitting his 715th career homer in 1974 in Atlanta, Braves play-by-play announcer Milo Hamilton forged his place in history as well with one of the most indelible calls in baseball.

Hamilton's enthusiastic holler -- "There's a new home run champion of all time, and it's Henry Aaron!" -- became the soundtrack to Aaron's record-breaking home run and connected the men for a lifetime. That's part of what made Tuesday night so special.

Aaron, at the request of Astros owner Jim Crane, was among a handful of former players in a crowd of more than 500 people in attendance at the Blue Star Gala, a star-studded event on the floor at Minute Maid Park to honor the Astros announcer's storied career.

"Your voice goes with me all over the world," Aaron told the crowd. "Everywhere I go, when people start talking about that home run, your voice comes back and I want to say how much I appreciate that."

Hamilton, 85, announced in February that this season would be his last behind the microphone for the Astros, the team he's worked for longer than any other in his Hall of Fame career. He spent 28 years calling games for the Astros and more than 55 years in the Major Leagues, with stops in St. Louis, Chicago, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Houston.

Hamilton called his final game in a full-time role on Sept. 26 against the Cardinals, signing off on a career that has seen him be recognized with the Ford C. Frick Award by the Baseball Hall of Fame. Among the Hall of Famers who came out to honor Hamilton were Aaron and former Astros pitcher Nolan Ryan. Craig Biggio and Roger Clemens were in attendance, too, along with many other former Astros' players.

Spearheading the organization of the gala was Franci Crane, wife of Jim Crane.

"It's kind of humbling when you think about it," Hamilton said. "I thought I would sink into the sunset after I said goodbye in the seventh inning of my final game."

Ryan, who played for the Astros from 1980-88, said Hamilton's passion and enthusiasm can't be matched.

"He's been the voice of the Astros for so long and what happens is he becomes the voice and the face that so many people recognize," Ryan said. "He passes the game from one generation to the next, and that's the impact that someone that works for a club as long as he did."

Many of baseball's top announcers paid homage to Hamilton in a video tribute, including Vin Scully, Bob Uecker, Marty Brennaman, Dave Van Horne and Duane Kuiper. Bob Costas and former President George Bush also lauded Hamilton in a video.

Houston mayor Annise Parker signed a declaration that made Oct. 16, 2012 "Milo Hamilton Day" in Houston, and representatives from Hamilton's hometown of Fairfield, Iowa, were on hand for a similar gesture. But the highlight of the evening came when Aaron took the microphone to a standing ovation.

"I wouldn't miss this for anything in the world," Aaron said. "Being here with Milo to celebrate his time is something that's very special to me. So when my wife and I talked about it, I asked her if she would care if I came here because today is her birthday."

It was only after Aaron's record-breaking home run that the public -- and even Hamilton himself -- learned about the hurdles Aaron had to overcome. The slugger received hate mail and threats from people upset an African-American was en route to breaking one of baseball's most iconic records.

"I go back a long way with Milo," Aaron said. "Milo and I were together for many years. The thing I remember most of the things Milo accomplished was the fact that a lot of people listened to him on the radio, and I think they appreciated the way they brought the game into our living rooms."

While Aaron's homer to break Babe Ruth's record was his most recognizable call, it was Biggio who provided the call Hamilton considers his most memorable with the Astros, when Biggio had a five-hit game to reach 3,000 hits in 2007 in Houston.

"The man's seen a lot over the course of his 60 years, and so for him to say that, that makes me feel pretty good," Biggio said. "He's seen a lot, he's done a lot and we're going to miss him. I'm honored to be able to call him a friend."

Among the others who spoke at the dais with Ryan, Phil Garner and Biggio were former Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker and Bill Doran, who was the second baseman on the 1986 Astros team that Hamilton considers his favorite during this time in Houston.

"Holy Toledo! What a career! Thanks, pally," Hunsicker told the crowd, stealing a couple of Hamilton's famous lines.

Garner, who played for the Pirates in the late 1970s while Hamilton was calling games in Pittsburgh, was given the name "Scrap Iron" by Hamilton -- a moniker he embraced so much that his wife gave him a motorcycle with it engraved on the side.

The two grew closer during Garner's playing days in Houston and later, when Garner was the Astros manager. They eventually became hunting buddies.

"I've known him for almost four decades now," Garner said. "He's a terrific man and has done a terrific job for baseball and the community wherever he is. It's fun to pay him a little bit of a tribute tonight."

The night ended when Hamilton addressed the crowd for about 20 minutes, telling stories of watching Satchel Paige, Ted Williams and Bob Feller play early in his career. He was in his element, in front of a microphone and surrounded by friends and family members and hundreds whose lives he's touched.

The admiration went both ways.

"You've made a marvelous memory trail for me," Hamilton said.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.