On this day 41 years ago, Hank Aaron passed the legendary Babe Ruth with his 715th career home run to become baseball’s new king of the long ball.
The Moment: The Atlanta Braves welcomed the Los Angeles Dodgers to Atlanta Stadium for their first home game of the young 1974 season. Opening Day in baseball is a special time in and of itself, but with Aaron one home run shy of making history – in a sport that cherishes its sacred records like no other – the game took on a unique feel.
The Dodgers sent veteran left-hander Al Downing to the mound to temporarily delay Aaron’s pursuit of history. And in their first clash, Downing walked Aaron, which of course drew the ire of the 53,000-plus in attendance and countless others watching on national television. Interestingly enough, Aaron would eventually come around to score to break Willy Mays’ National League record for runs.
When Aaron stepped into the batter’s box for the second time in the game during the fourth inning, Downing threw the first pitch into the dirt, making it clear that he had no intentions of being the pitcher to give up home run No. 715. But on the second pitch of the at-bat, Downing left the ball up in the zone, and Aaron pounced on it to send it approximately 400 feet over the left center-field fence.
With a snap of the wrist and a crack of the bat, those lucky enough to be in attendance witnessed one of the most revered moments in baseball history.
As Aaron made his way around the base paths, he was met by two fans who slipped onto the field to congratulate him on his accomplishment. Then, when he reached home plate, the celebration really began as he was greeted by his entire team and his family.
Since the Dodgers were in town, it also meant that their legendary broadcaster Vin Scully was on hand to deliver the play-by-play. Scully’s call not only captured how special the feat was, but also shed light on the racial climate at the time – which provides insight on some of the obstacles Aaron encountered during his ascension through the record books.
“What a marvelous moment for baseball,” Scully said. “What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the deep south for breaking a record for an all-time baseball idol.”
Aaron ultimately finished his illustrious career with 755 home runs, but was later surpassed by Barry Bonds who finished with 762. However, Aaron is still widely regarded as the true home run king.
Take some time to re-live the moment below, and let us know your thoughts in the comment section.
Photo: Getty Images