Amid the stress of trying to pass eternal fan favorite Babe Ruth on the All-Time Home Run List, Henry Louis "Hank" Aaron was finally able to connect for his 715th home run in front of the Hometown crowd at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, 40 years ago today. Under the cover of a light misty rain and facing a 1-0 count in the fourth inning against Los Angeles Dodgers starter Al Downing, Aaron was able to hit a 400-foot homer over the left-center field fence to step alone onto the main pedestal for the record that many had claimed would never be broken.
For video footage with interviews with Hank Aaron and Al Downing, watch the following video:
Aaron faced many obstacles on his road to 715. His path was littered by hate mail, threats to his family and life and the resistance by many people who refused to believe that a man of color could or should eclipse the Babe's hallowed record. But as the fastball that Downing offered to Aaron sailed over the fence, we saw a change in the game that started with World War II veteran and fellow Negro Leaguer Jack Roosevelt "Jackie" Robinson and continued with Arron rounding the bases with two white fans running side-by-side with him, not to harm him but to pat him on the back. To congratulate him on his achievement. To bask with Aaron not in a black or white thing but as fans, as people, as decent human beings.
Writing that just gave me goosebumps. The game of Baseball has not always been perfect when it came to race relations but Aaron reaching 715 was indeed a new step not only for Baseball but for many in this country who were still living with hatred and racism on a daily basis. But enough with the waxing poetically and being overly sentimental. :)
With Aaron's fourth inning homer, the game would be tied 3-3 and would eventually be won by the Braves 7-4. Here is the box score from the Los Angeles Dodgers vs. The Atlanta Braves, April 8, 1974:
Aaron would play for two more seasons, making the move to the American League with the Milwaukee Brewers. He would retire with 755 homers. Happy Anniversary Hammering Hank!!!!!
Until Then Play Ball