Despite Racial Taunting and Threats, Henry Aaron Maintained His Dignity and Forged Respect While Surpassing Babe Ruth’s Record
While the first month of each new MLB season is loaded with excitement
and full of promise for every major league player, April 1974 couldn’t
come soon enough for MLB Home Run King Henry “Hank” Aaron, who ended the
previous season on the brink of the game’s most legendary home run
The chase to pass Babe Ruth’s (then) all-time home
run record of 714 reached a public frenzy in last days of the 1973 MLB
season as 39-year-old Hammerin’ Hank hit his 40th long-ball (career
homer 713) on September 29, 1973 to draw within a single home run of
Ruth’s record, but failed in his quest to tie “The Bambino” for the
greatest home run hitter to date as the season drew to a close.
a result, he had to endure a long off-season filled with nay-sayer’s
hostile comments and threats from racists who did not want to see a
black man break Ruth's home run record. Despite his bravery, Aaron
admitted that he was extra diligent to assure that he would live to play
another season; thereby fulfilling his lifelong quest to be the best.
"I can't recall a day this year or last when I did not hear the name of
Babe Ruth,” Aaron said.
Later asked what was his most
disappointing experience as he approached Babe Ruth’s record, he said:
“The closer I got to the record, the more people started thinking that
it wasn’t the most important record in baseball. I just wished for a
moment that I could have enjoyed it as much as Sammy Sosa and Mark
McGwire enjoyed in their chase (1998),” Aaron said. “Between the
threats and all the controversy, my daughter (in college at Fisk
University) wasn’t able to enjoy it. And I had to put my two boys in
private schools, so they weren’t there to be bat boys. They weren’t able
to enjoy it. So I was deprived of a lot of things that really should
have belonged to me and my family.
But he also received a massive
flood of public support in response to the bigotry. Babe Ruth's widow,
Claire Hodgson, even denounced the racists and declared that “The Babe
would have enthusiastically cheered Aaron's attempt at the record.”
the 1974 season began, Aaron's pursuit of the home run record caused a
small controversy as the Braves prepared to open the season on the road
in Cincinnati with a three game series. Braves management wanted him to
break the record in Atlanta. Therefore, they were going to have Aaron
sit out the first three games of the season. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn
ruled that he had to play two out of three. He tied Babe Ruth's record
in his very first at bat off Reds pitcher Jack Billingham, but did not
hit another home run in the series.
Thus, on April 8, 1974, Aaron
returned to a record-setting Fulton Stadium crowd of 53,775 and a
national TV audience tuned in to watch his attempt to surpass the Babe.
Aaron hit career home run 715 in the 4th inning off Los Angeles pitcher
Al Downing. The ball landed in the Braves bullpen where reliever Tom
House caught it. While cannons were fired in celebration, two college
students ran alongside Aaron around the base paths. To witness this
historic moment, click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OkjkgyhaNLE.