An unsuspecting man from Mobile, Alabama, with a quiet demeanor, and one hell of a quick swing broke Babe Ruth’s vaunted home run record on this date 40 years ago. April 8, 1974 is a date forever etched into the minds of baseball fans, whether they were alive or not. I wasn’t around when Hank smashed a 2-run home run off the Dodgers’ Al Downing in the fourth inning, but I’ll never be able to shake the image. It’s a glorious moment for baseball, and a man we all strive to be. Unlike more recent home run hitters, Aaron was a man–and still is–a man of few words, who played the game right, and despite the endless hate mail and death threats, Aaron persevered, never throwing it in the faces of his detractors.
As I write this blog post, I’m looking at the box score from April 8, 1974, when the Braves defeated the Dodgers 7-4 in the fourth game of the season. On the surface, it appears to be any other game as the Braves managed 7 runs on just 4 hits, but walked 7 times. Aaron’s only hit of the night was the dinger in the 4th; he went 1-3 for the night and also managed a walk. Braves’ pitcher Ron Reed pitched 6 innings, giving up all 7 of the Dodgers’ hits and all 4 runs, and managed to pick up his first win on the young season.
On the surface it appeared to be any other game.
Except time stood still in the bottom of the 4th as Aaron stepped to the plate and mashed one of the left field wall. The sold out crowd at Fulton County Stadium went bananas, and two young fans joined Aaron as he trotted around the bases. For a moment, time stood still and the entire country watched as Henry Aaron took his place in history.
It’s funny, I can’t remember seeing the moment admitted steroid-user Mark McGwire hit number 62, breaking Roger Maris’s single season record, nor do I care to remember Barry Bonds’ home run that broke Aaron’s record, but even though I wasn’t alive, I will always remember the image of Aaron hitting that home run. Unlike Bonds, who stuck his arms in the air, admired the shot, and trotted around the bases patting himself on the back, Aaron did what you should: he tucked his head, rounded the bases, and scored. He didn’t seem to mind or notice the two kids running with him, or the throngs of people waiting for him at home plate. To Henry Louis Aaron, it was a home run that tied the game, 3-3.
He was thankful the chase was over and has always seemed so humble about the record. Unlike certain characters, Aaron never martyred himself and he kept playing the game. Today, the Braves honor the true home run king, and unlike San Francisco that quickly stripped itself of anything Barry Bonds, the Braves celebrate Hank Aaron today and everyday.
Hank is a man who always put his team before himself, did his job without question, and played some of the best baseball anyone’s seen. Aaron is a 25 time All-Star, won the 1957 World Series, was the NL MVP that same year, won 3 Gold Gloves, 2 batting titles, was the NL home run champion 4 times, and holds the record for most RBIs, total bases, extra base hits, and yes, home runs.
Even if you despise the Atlanta Braves, today, we can all root for baseball’s true home run king, Henry Louis Aaron.
Cheers to 40 years, Hank.