This Day In History: July 14

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On July 14, 1968, Atlanta Braves slugger Henry “Hank” Aaron hits the 500th home run of his career in a 4-2 win over the San Francisco Giants.

Henry Aaron was born February 5, 1934, in Mobile, Alabama. The third of eight children, Aaron was a star football player, third baseman and outfielder in high school, and signed with the Negro League’s Mobile Black Bears while still a teenager. He joined the Indianapolis Clowns in 1952 at age 18 and helped them win the Negro League World Series. The next year, his contract was sold to the Milwaukee Braves of the National League. On April 13, 1954, Aaron became the last former Negro League player to make his debut in the major leagues.

Aaron broke camp with the big league Braves in 1954 after a year of thorough domination in the minor leagues. In that and many future seasons with the Braves, Aaron shared the spotlight with third baseman Eddie Matthews. For their careers, the two men hit a record 863 home runs as teammates and hit home runs in the same game 75 times. In 1957, Aaron won his only MVP award, hitting .322 with 44 home runs and 132 RBIs. Aaron, Matthews and pitchers Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette led the Braves to a World Series victory that year over Manager Casey Stengel and his perennial favorite New York Yankees. In 1958, the Braves won their second National League pennant in a row, but lost a World Series rematch to the Yankees.

On July 14, 1968, with 499 career home runs under his belt, Aaron hit a three-run shot in the third inning off Giants’ pitcher Mike McCormick. Aaron was mobbed at home plate by his teammates and presented with an award by Braves President Bill Bartholomay for reaching 500 home runs.

Aaron was already 34 years old in 1968, the age at which players of his era usually began a rapid decline. Although 1968 was a slightly off year for the slugger–he hit .287 with 29 home runs and 86 RBIs–Aaron was not yet slowing down. Naysayers ate their words as they watched him hit 203 home runs between 1969 and 1973. On April 8, 1974, after a winter of hate mail containing threats from racist fans, Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s record for career home runs. Aaron retired from baseball in 1976 with 755 home runs. After a career of remarkable offensive consistency, Aaron retired as the all-time leader in runs batted in, extra base hits and total bases. He was named to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, and died in 2021. 

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