When Babe Ruth set his home run record in 1935, and because the record lasted for so many years, many people thought it would never be broken. That idea was shattered on April 8, 1974, when Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves hits his 715th career home run, breaking Babe Ruth’s legendary record of 714 homers. The game was also broadcast nationally on NBC. It was the end of an era, and many people were sad to see it happen. There was discussion that it shouldn’t count, because of the difference in bats in the 70s, as opposed to the 30s. I wasn’t a big baseball fan in those days, but I remember the argument. I’m sure there was some validity in it, but the fact that the equipment had changed was not something anyone could help. The rules allowed the newer bats, and that was that.
Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s record in front of a crowd of 53,775 people, the largest in the history of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. They all knew he was close, and no one wanted to miss that all-important 715th homerun. The record-breaking hit came in a 4th inning pitch off the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Al Downing. However, because Aaron, an African American, had received death threats and racist hate mail during his pursuit of one of baseball’s most distinguished records, the achievement, for him, was bittersweet.
Henry Louis Aaron Jr was born in Mobile, Alabama, on February 5, 1934. He made his Major League debut in 1954 with the Milwaukee Braves. That, in and of itself was an accomplishment, because just eight years earlier, it would not have been allowed. Then, Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier and became the first African American to play in the majors in 1947. That opened the door for Aaron, a hardworking and quiet man. He was to be the last “Negro League” player to also compete in the Major Leagues. In 1957, Aaron, who played right field, was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player as the Milwaukee Braves won the pennant. A few weeks later, his three home runs in the World Series helped his team in their win over the heavily favored New York Yankees. Although “Hammerin’ Hank” specialized in home runs, he was also an extremely dependable batter, and by the end of his career he held baseball’s career record for most runs batted in…2,297. His career lasted for 23 years. He was with the Braves from 1954 to 1974…first in Milwaukee and then in Atlanta, when the franchise moved in 1966…and closed it out with two seasons back in Milwaukee for the Brewers.
When he retired in 1976, Aaron had 755 career home runs to his credit…a record that stood until 2007, when it was broken by controversial slugger Barry Bonds (Bonds admitted to using steroids in 2011). Bonds career homeruns ended at 762, but many people think he should be stripped of the record for the illegal steroid use. Nevertheless, Bonds baseball career was over. Hank Aaron’s achievements didn’t end when his career did, though. He went on to become one of baseball’s first African American executives, with the Atlanta Braves, and a leading spokesperson for minority hiring. Hank Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. On January 5, 2021, Aaron publicly received a COVID-19 vaccination with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Morehouse School of Medicine at Atlanta, Georgia. Aaron died in his sleep in his Atlanta residence on January 22 at the age of 86. While the manner of death was listed as natural causes, anti-vaccine activists Robert F Kennedy Jr and Del Bigtree have suggested that Aaron’s death was caused by receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. I suppose we will never know.