Wearing the All-Time MLB Home Run Crown
Written by Jim Rednour   
Thursday, 31 January 2008

Aaron Claimed It From Ruth, Bonds Took It From Him

Bonds Blasts His Way To The Top

Perhaps the only certainty surrounding Barry Bonds’ ascent to the top of the home run mountain was that his record-tying (setting) 755th (756th) blast would occur -- whether by design or coincidence -- at home, within the friendly environs of the San Francisco AT&T Park, where he could be sure of receiving a suitably warm tribute from the crowd.

Just as nearly all of his previous milestone homers – including the blast that propelled him into the 500 Home Run Club® – occurred within the only major league stadium where his slugging achievements have been met with unequivocally positive response by the Giants’ home crowd.  That list includes homer No. 71 that broke the single-season record in 2001, No. 600 the following year, the shots that tied and passed Willie Mays for third place all-time in 2004, No. 700 later that season and No. 715 last year to move past Babe Ruth.

About the only noteworthy homer to come outside of San Francisco occurred just across the bay in Oakland. With plenty of Giants fans in the stands last year, Bonds tied Ruth with No. 714.
The outspoken new home run king had repeatedly said that he didn’t have the time at his age to worry about where his biggest record-breaking home run occurred, but he was pretty sure people would want to see it wherever it happens.  "They boo, but all them cameras flash every time I swing, don't they?" Bonds said. "Boo, but click, click, click, click. The fans like baseball, guys. Fans enjoy the game of baseball. Regardless of what anybody says, they're going to come. They want to see it happen."

One person who made it clear that he would not be in on-hand when Bonds broke the record was Aaron -- a stance interpreted by many as an indictment of Bonds.  Aaron did, however, record a video message that was played for Bonds on the jumbotron after 756 was hit. 

Then, in an August 2007 interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Hammerin’ Hank clarified the issue by saying that he might eventually speak to new home run champion Barry Bonds. “Eventually, if I happen to see him somewhere, I’d probably say something to him,” Aaron was quoted as saying.  “To be honest, I’m as happy for him as anybody,” said the 73-year-old Aaron, who was at home sleeping in Atlanta when Bonds hit number 756.
For his part, Bonds has always been respectful of Aaron’s place atop the all-time list.  On May 28, 2006, after hitting his 715th home run to pass Babe Ruth for second on the all-time home run list, he was asked about his quest for the all-time record of 755.  Bonds said. "Over 10 years ago, when Mike Tollin interviewed me for the Hank Aaron documentary, I said at the time that no one will ever get close to 755.  Now, to finally have a chance to catch {and surpass} a legend, is really a mind-blowing honor."

Babe Ruth Hit Many Memorable Home Runs

While most of his 700+ career home runs came while playing for his first team (the Boston Red Sox) or his second team (The New York Yankees), history records that Babe Ruth’s 714th career home run came with him wearing a Boston Braves uniform.  The Bambino’s final home run -- hit May 25, 1936 at Forbes Field -- was a towering shot that gave fans in attendance a stark reminder of Ruth’s past glory, and added a wrinkle to baseball history in Pittsburgh.

Original accounts from the Pittsburgh Press indicate that the ball scorched to earth, hitting a rooftop at 318 Bouquet St., in the city's Oakland section, some 600 feet from home plate. Except that there's a knot in that yarn: Bouquet Street was in foul territory.  No one contests that the home run was legitimate, nor is there any argument that it was a titanic blast. But further research has indicated that No. 714 -- the last of three Ruth hit that afternoon in an 11-7 Boston Braves loss to the Pirates -- most likely touched down behind the right field fence on Joncaire Street and either ended up in a backyard on that street or bounced down the steep hill toward Panther Hollow and was chased down by a small group of boys.

Either way, that ball has found a permanent home at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. An accompanying card says that the ball was donated by one Henry "Wiggy" DeOrio, who in 1935 was a boy living in the Iron city’s Oakland neighborhood at the time.

Babe Was First To 500 Home Runs; and He Wasn’t Chasing Anyone

While some would argue that every home run Babe Ruth ever hit was BIG, even “The Bambino” himself was impressed by the achievement of hitting No. 500.  Batting at League Park in Cleveland, Ruth hit his 500th career home run on the Indians’ Willis Hudlin's first delivery in the second inning.  The ball shot over the right field fence onto Lexington Avenue outside of Cleveland’s League Park, he told Detective H.C. Folger, "I'd kinda like to have that one." The detective found the young boy who had caught the ball and brought him to meet the sports biggest star.  The boy exchanged the historic 500th home run ball for an autographed ball and a twenty-dollar bill, and was quoted in the next day’s newspaper as saying, "Gee, Ruth's a swell guy."

Aaron Hammers His Way To Baseball's Elite

Hammerin’ Hank Aaron was 15-months-old when “The Bambino” Babe Ruth hit the last of his record 714 homers. Thirty-eight years later, in the summer of '73, Aaron's chase to beat the Babe heated up.  The year ended with Aaron at 713 homers. Hammerin' Hank was determined not to let the threats distract him from his quest.

Over the winter, Aaron endured death threats and a large assortment of racist hate mail from people who did not want to see a black man break Ruth's home run record.   But he also received a massive flood of public support in response to the bigotry.  In fact, 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.”  

As 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 Atla


nta. 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.

Hank’s mother Estella Aaron ran onto the field as well, and was quoted as saying "I knew my boy had a chance to do it. He takes care of himself and nothing comes in front of baseball for Henry (Aaron). Nothing. On days when he is feeling good, it's just too bad for the pitchers."