On April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves hits his 715th career home run, breaking Babe Ruth’s legendary record of 714 homers. A crowd of 53,775 people, the largest in the history of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, was with Aaron that night to cheer when he hit a 4th inning pitch off the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Al Downing. However, as Aaron was an African American who had received death threats and racist hate mail during his pursuit of one of baseball’s most distinguished records, the achievement was bittersweet.
Henry Louis Aaron Jr., born in Mobile, Alabama, on February 5, 1934, made his Major League debut in 1954 with the Milwaukee Braves, just seven years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier and became the first African American to play in the majors. Aaron, known as hard working and quiet, was the last Negro league player to also compete in the Major Leagues. In 1957, with characteristically little fanfare, Aaron, who primarily 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 triumph 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.
Aaron spent his 23-year big league career with two organizations. 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.
Aaron hung up his cleats in 1976 with 755 career home runs—a record that stood until 2007, when it was broken by controversial slugger Barry Bonds (Bonds admitted to using steroids in 2011). 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. He died on January 22, 2021, at age 86.
More Than a Home Run