Baseball History Hank Aaron Breaks the Home Run Record Part 1
About the history of Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's home run record in his own words.
THE CHAMPIONS REPORT ON THEIR BIGGEST MOMENTS
Henry Aaron Becomes the Home Run King (1974)
The 1974 baseball season opened with more than the usual fanfare. Henry Aaron of the Atlanta Braves needed only one home run to tie the immortal Babe Ruth's lifetime record of 714. The significant question had become not if--that he would do it was a foregone conclusion--but rather in what ball park and against which ill-fated pitcher.
The Braves were opening with a three-game series in Cincinnati, much to their disgruntlement; it was only fitting, they felt, that Aaron should break the record in the home ball park. Nonetheless, Aaron started the first game, and with his first swing of the bat drove a Jack Billingham fastball into the left-field seats for number 714.
With the tying home run on the books, the Braves felt they had paid their dues to baseball and announced that they would keep Aaron out of the remaining two games so that he could hit number 715 in Atlanta. An enormous furor erupted, led by Dick Young (the self-proclaimed "conscience of baseball") and other New York writers, who felt that the Braves' action cheapened the record and turned it into a carnival sideshow. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn concurred. He ordered the Braves to play Aaron in two of the three games. After Saturday's game, in which Aaron did not appear, he called manager Eddie Mathews succumbed, and Aaron was in Sunday's lineup. The soft-spoken slugger had the final say in the argument. He struck out on three straight pitches in his two times at bat.
The stage was now set for Monday night's game against the Dodgers in Atlanta. No one had any doubt that this would be the night. Fans showed up with gloves and nets attached to long poles; $2,000 worth of fireworks were set to go off; people from Aaron's past were trotted out for an elaborate pregame ceremony; specially marked balls were set aside to throw to Aaron so that the real home run ball could be identified.
Inevitably, almost as if the act were out of Aaron's hands, it happened. In his second trip to the plate, Aaron connected on Al Downing's fastball and drove it over the left-field wall. As he circled the bases with his usual no-nonsense efficiency, the fans rose as one with an enormous roar to honor a new American hero.
Throughout the entire episode, Aaron remained characteristically calm and unflappable (in contrast to Ruth's flamboyance). He seemed embarrassed by all the fuss and a little weary. Along with the tremendous pressure and endless inane questions was the racial invective from whites who hated to see the mighty Ruth felled by a black man. Yet to Aaron the record was more a by-product of a job well done than an end in itself. When the Braves lost the game in which he hit number 714, he ordered the champagne put away for a worthier occasion. But it all came together that Monday night--the record and the win--and a relieved Henry Aaron was free to savor his achievement.
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