With nearly every sports organization on the planet on pause at the moment as the world deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, we feel it’s an opportune time to reminisce about some special moments in sports history
On this day in 1974, Hank Aaron hit his 715th career home run, breaking the all-time record set by Babe Ruth in 1935. With the count 1-0 in the bottom of the fourth inning, the Braves superstar hit a shot to left-centre field off Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Al Downing that sailed over Bill Buckner’s head and into the Atlanta bullpen.
Aaron had finished the 1973 season sitting at 713 career homers and tied Ruth’s record when he smashed a three-run dinger off Cincinnati Reds all-star Jack Billingham in the top of the first inning on opening day in 1974.
He broke the record four days later. It was Atlanta’s home opener, so the boisterous crowd of 53,775 fans at Fulton County Stadium was especially eager to witness history.
Dodgers second baseman Davey Lopes congratulated Aaron as the legend ran the bases, as did two random fans who snuck onto the field.
Fireworks blared as Aaron rounded third and headed towards home plate where he was greeted by his Braves teammates. Aaron’s parents Herbert and Estella were also there to embrace their son in celebration.
Here’s Vin Scully on the call.
“What a marvellous moment for baseball. What a marvellous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvellous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the deep south for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol.”
Profound words from Scully as Aaron had received a multitude of racist letters and even death threats in the lead-up to breaking Ruth’s record.
“There isn’t a doubt in my mind that he was the perfect man to do it, representing this sport socially and everything that happened during that time,” former MLB commissioner Bud Selig said of Aaron’s accomplishment back in 2014 while reflecting on the moment. “Henry took a lot of abuse when he broke that record, but he rose above all that. I can’t think of a better human being to achieve what he did and carry himself the way he has, and, as a result, baseball is better because of him.”
Selig introduced the Hank Aaron Award in 1999 given annually to the top hitter in both the American League and National League.
Braves reliever Tom House actually managed to catch the record-breaking ball and sprinted to join his teammates and hand Aaron the piece of history on what he described as “one of the coolest nights of my life.”
There have been 27 major-leaguers to record more than 500 home runs. Nine have reached the 600-HR plateau, but Aaron, Ruth and Barry Bonds are the only three to surpass 700. Aaron is the only right-handed batter to do so.
Aaron retired in 1976 and finished his career with 755 home runs, a record that lasted until Aug. 7, 2007 when Bonds went yard for the 756th time.
“I move over and offer my best wishes to Barry and his family on this historical achievement,” Aaron said in a video message he recorded for Bonds at the time. “My hope today, as it was on that April evening in 1974, is that the achievement of this record will inspire others to chase their own dreams.”
Aaron certainly inspired many others on this day 46 years ago.