On April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves hits his 715th career home run and breaks the long-standing record held by Babe Ruth. Aaron’s record-breaking 715th homer came in the fourth inning of the Braves’ home opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers, with over 53,000 fans in attendance at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Aaron hit a pitch off lefthander Al Downing and the ball went sailing over the fence in left center field. After Aaron rounded the bases and reached home plate, he was lifted up and congratulated by his teammates. He then shook his father’s hand and hugged his mother. Sadly, in the months leading up to the new record, Aaron, who is African-American, received racist hate mail and death threats.
Aaron began his professional baseball career in 1952 in the Negro League and joined the Milwaukee Braves of the major leagues in 1954, eight years after Jackie Robinson had integrated baseball. Aaron was the last Negro League player to compete in the majors. He quickly established himself as an important player for the Braves and won the National League batting title in 1956. The following season, he took home the league’s MVP award and helped the Braves beat Mickey Mantle and the heavily favored New York Yankees in the World Series. In 1959, Aaron won his second league batting title. Season after season, Aaron turned in strong batting performances: “Hammerin’ Hank” hit .300 or higher for 14 seasons and slugged at least 40 homers in eight separate seasons. In May 1970, he became the first player in baseball to record 500 homers and 3,000 hits. Aaron played for the Milwaukee Braves from 1954 to 1965 and then moved with the team to Atlanta in 1966. On February 29, 1972, the Braves signed Aaron to a three-year, $200,000 per year contract that made him baseball’s best-paid player. In November 1974, the Braves traded Aaron to the Milwaukee Brewers, where he spent the final two seasons of his career.
Aaron retired from baseball in 1976 with 755 career home runs, a record that stood until August 7, 2007, when it was broken by Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants. Aaron still holds the records for most career runs batted in (2,297), most career total bases (6,856) and most career extra base hits (1,477). After retiring as a player, Aaron became one of baseball’s first black executives, with the Atlanta Braves. In 1982, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.