On this day in 1974, Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves hits his 715th career home run, breaking Babe Ruth’s legendary record of 714 homers. A crowd of 53,775 people, the largest in the history of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, was with Aaron that night to cheer when he hit a 4th inning pitch off the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Al Downing. However, as Aaron was an African American who had received death threats and racist hate mail during his pursuit of one of baseball’s most distinguished records, the achievement was bittersweet.
Henry Louis Aaron Jr., born in Mobile, Alabama, on February 5, 1934, made his Major League debut in 1954 with the Milwaukee Braves, just eight years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier and became the first African American to play in the majors. Aaron, known as hard working and quiet, was the last Negro league player to also compete in the Major Leagues. In 1957, with characteristically little fanfare, Aaron, who primarily played right field, was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player as the Milwaukee Braves won the pennant. A few weeks later, his three home runs in the World Series helped his team triumph over the heavily favored New York Yankees. Although “Hammerin’ Hank” specialized in home runs, he was also an extremely dependable batter, and by the end of his career he held baseball’s career record for most runs batted in: 2,297.
Aaron’s playing career spanned three teams and 23 years. He was with the Milwaukee Braves from 1954 to 1965, the Atlanta Braves from 1966 to 1974 and the Milwaukee Brewers from 1975 to 1976. He hung up his cleats in 1976 with 755 career home runs and went on to become one of baseball’s first African-American executives, with the Atlanta Braves, and a leading spokesperson for minority hiring. Hank Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982.