On This Date in Sports April 8, 1974: 715

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

With a two-run home run in the fourth inning, Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves becomes baseball's all-time home run king, passing the record held by Babe Ruth. Aaron's record-breaking home run off Al Downing of the Los Angeles Dodgers ties the game 3-3 at Fulton County Stadium. Two fans ran onto the field and patted Aaron on his back before he reached home, where all his teammates and his mom and dad were waiting to greet him. Aaron would retire in 1976, hitting 755 home runs. 

Henry Louis Aaron was born on February 5, 1934, in Mobile, Alabama. Growing up, Aaron could not afford baseball equipment and practiced hitting by using bottle caps to hit with sticks. During high school, Hank Aaron played for a local semipro team named the Mobile Black Bears. Hank Aaron earned his first tryout in 1949 with the Brooklyn Dodgers but went unsigned. After playing with the Indianapolis Clowns, Aaron got offers from the New York Giants and Boston Braves, choosing the Braves, who offered an additional $50. 

Hank Aaron made his debut in 1954 with the Milwaukee Braves, who moved a year earlier. After finishing fourth in Rookie of the Year voting, Aaron made his first All-Star Game in 1955. Over the next decade, Hank Aaron became one of the most consistent hitters in the game, winning the National League MVP with 44 home runs and 132 RBI in 1957. That year the Braves won the World Series. He reached 500 home runs without hitting 50 home runs, achieving a career-high 44 homer three times in 1957, 1963, and 1966.

The 1966 season saw the Brave move to Atlanta. For 19 years, Aaron 24 home runs and had 17 years of at least 150 hits. On July 14, 1968, Hank Aaron became the eighth player in MLB history to reach 500 home runs against the San Francisco Giants. When Aaron collected his 3,000th hit, he became the first player to collect 3,000 hits with 500 home runs. Willie Mays of the Giants would get his 3,000th hit on July 18, 1970, become the second member of the 3,000 hits, 500 home run club. 

Hank Aaron would go on to break the all-time record for home runs held by Babe Ruth in 1974, finishing with 755 dingers in 1976. In addition, Hank Aaron set the career record with 2,297 RBI. Retiring with a .305 average, Hank Aaron collected 3,771 hits, third on the all-time career list behind Pete Rose and Ty Cobb. He is one of six players (Willie Mays, Eddie Murray, Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Pujols, and Alex Rodriguez) with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. A list that is likely to expand to seven players with Miguel Cabrera in reach of both milestones in 2021. 

Hank Aaron had a big season in 1973, hitting 40 home runs, passing 700 for his career, and coming one away from Babe Ruth's record 714 home runs. That offseason was rough for Aaron, who received death threats from racist fans angry that he was on the verge of history. The Braves' season began in Cincinnati against the Reds, in the traditional season opener. In his first at ba in the first inning, Aaron tied the record with a three-run homer. He would go hitless the rest of the game, as the Reds beat the Braves 7-6 in 11 innings. Two days later, Aaron rested. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn ordered Aaron to play two games in the three-game series in Cincinnati, knowing the Braves wanted the record to come in Atlanta, who had their home opener on the following Monday night. Hank Aaron went hitless in three at-bats as the Braves recorded the first win of the season, 5-3.    

All eyes were on Atlanta, as the game aired nationally on NBC, as a record 53,775 was on hand at Fulton County Stadium. With the crowd booing, Hank Aaron was walked in his first at-bat leading off the second inning. Aaron would come into score on a double by Dusty Baker. The Dodgers scored three runs in the third to take a 3-1 lead. Hank Aaron was due up second in the fourth inning. After Darrell Evans reached on an error by shortstop Bill Russell, Aaron came to the plate. On a 1-0 count, Hank Aaron drove the ball to left-center field, where Bill Buckner tried in vain to climb the fence and make the catch as it sailed over the wall into history. After a long celebration, the Braves added two runs to take the lead, winning 7-4.

Hank Aaron's record would stand for 33 years when Barry Bonds who hit 763 home runs aided by performance-enhancing drugs topped his record in 2007.