On September 30, 1927, a record was set in Baseball, that no-one thought would be broken. That was the day Babe Ruth set the home run record. For 47 years, nobody in Baseball was able to break it. But that all changed on April 8, 1974, when Hank Aaron hit Home Run 715 of his career. Normally breaking a record would be a great time for a Baseball player but not everyone was happy with Hank’s accomplishment.
Hate Mail and Death Threats
Hank Aaron did not express excitement as he was coming close to Babe Ruth’s record. When he talked about it, he tried to play it off like it wasn’t a big deal. However, enthusiasts and news stations were very excited about the possibility that Hank was going to break Babe Ruth’s record. During the summer of 1973, Hank was receiving thousands of letters but some of these letters were death threats if he went ahead and broke the record of Babe Ruth. Hank was getting so much mail that the Braves had to hire a secretary to help sort out the mail.
The threats did not just stop with Hank Aaron. People who were upset with the possibility of Babe Ruth’s record being broken even threatened the people covering the event. Lewis Grizzard was sports editor of the Atlanta Journal at the time and he was receiving calls from Babe Ruth fans who were insulting his journalists for being ready to cover the game that Hank would break Babe Ruth’s record. People were so upset that Grizzard secretly had an obituary ready to go if someone made sure Hank didn’t have a chance to break the Home Run record.
Babe Ruth’s Widow Helps
One person who jumped to Hank’s defence was Claire Hodgson. Claire is the widow of Babe Ruth and she spoke out against the racist comments that were being made about Hank Aaron. Claire also said that if her husband was still alive, he would be encouraging Hank to break the record. He tied Babe Ruth’s record on April 4, 1974 at the Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium, the ball went over the leftfield wall bringing home three runs.
Hank Aaron Passes the Babe
On April 8, 1974, in Atlanta facing off against the L.A. Dodgers, Hank Aaron hit Home Run 715 in the fourth inning. People started running with Hank to support him and one reporter even tried to interview him as he was running from 3rd Base to Home Plate. After Hank ran around the Baseball diamond, Hank’s parents came onto the Baseball diamond to congratulate him.
This was a big moment and not just because Babe Ruth’s record had now been broken. Hank got a standing ovation from the crowd. A black baseball player in the South was getting a standing ovation in the mid-1970s. Despite all the threats, Hank Aaron continued to tie then break the record of Babe Ruth.
Hank Aaron Joins Atlanta’s Front Office
Hank’s legacy did not end with the breaking of that record. After the 1976 season had concluded, Hank Aaron joined the Atlanta Braves but this time Hank had the role of an executive. In August of 1982, Hank Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall Of Fame by receiving 97.8% of the votes. Only one other player in history has received more votes when being considered for the Hall Of Fame. Hank Aaron eventually became Vice President of the Atlanta Braves and he became one of the first minorities to handle upper-level management duties of Major League Baseball.
It was a stressful few months Hank Aaron had to deal with when he was breaking Babe Ruth’s record. While Hank had his supporters, he also had his detractors and some people thought the detractors would do anything to stop Hank Aaron. Hank still broke the record and continued to make history in Baseball even after he retired.
Hank Aaron passed away in his sleep on January 22, 2021, two weeks before his 87th birthday. (See post relating to the passing of HOF players)
Footnote: On September 5th 2007, Barry Bonds hit his 762nd and last career home run passing Hank’s career record of 755, but that is another story…..
“I’m hoping someday that some kid, black or white, will hit more home runs than myself. Whoever it is, I’d be pulling for him.”