Hank Aaron had steadily climbed up the home run charts when he tied Babe Ruth’s all-time record on April 4, 1974. Four days later, “Hammerin’ Hank” stood alone. Hank Aaron hit his 715th career home run and moved past Babe Ruth on April 8, 1974.
What happened the night Hank Aaron hit his historic home run, and what did it mean for baseball as a whole? Let’s take a look back in time.
Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers
Hank Aaron ended the 1973 season with 713 home runs to his name. Atlanta planned on sitting Aaron for the opening series at Cincinnati so he’d have a chance to tie, and later break, Babe Ruth’s home run record in Atlanta. MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn intervened and ordered Aaron play at least two of the Braves’ three games against the Reds. Aaron’s first at-bat of the 1974 season ended with his 714th homer.
Four days later, Aaron stepped to the plate in the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Fittingly, Aaron — a black player who played in the Negro Leagues — hit his 715th home run against a black pitcher, Al Downing, and the team that broke the color barrier in 1947 by playing Jackie Robinson. Fans embraced Aaron as he rounded the bases and had the signature moment in a 7-4 Braves victory.
Hank Aaron’s record-breaking home run was his last great moment
At 40 years old, it was clear by the end of April 1974 that Hank Aaron‘s best days were behind him. Aaron ended the season’s first month hitting just .216 with a .298 on-base percentage. A strong final two months pushed Aaron’s average up to .268, though his 20 homers were his fewest since his rookie season in 1974.
Atlanta traded Aaron to the Milwaukee Brewers, the city where he began his MLB career, after the season. Aaron hit 22 home runs in two seasons with the Brewers and set a league record with 2,297 RBIs. Using Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement system, Hank Aaron totaled only 0.5 WAR with the Brewers.
Aaron ended his career with 755 home runs. San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds broke Aaron’s record on August 7, 2007.
What else happened in baseball on April 8?
- Four expansion teams played their first game on April 8, 1969. The Seattle Pilots, who move to Milwaukee after a year, defeated the Angels 4-3 in Anaheim. The Kansas City Royals beat the Minnesota Twins, 4-3, in 12 innings. Rusty Staub and the Montreal Expos opened play with an 11-10 thrilling victory over the Mets. The San Diego Padres held on for a 2-1 victory against the Houston Astros.
- A year after Hank Aaron broke the home run record, Frank Robinson broke the managerial color barrier. Robinson served his first game as baseball’s first manager on April 8, 1975. A player-manager for the Cleveland Indians, Robinson homered in a 5-3 Indians victory.
- Washington Nationals pitcher Daniel Cabrera furthered the case for a universal designated hitter on April 8, 2009. Cabrera struck out twice in his first two at-bats of the season. Having previously struck out 14 straight at-bats when he played for the Baltimore Orioles, Cabrera’s 16 consecutive strikeouts as a hitter set an MLB record.
- Legendary slugger Manny Ramirez promptly retired on April 8, 2011, after Major League Baseball informed Ramirez he needed to serve a 100-game suspension for violating baseball’s drug policy. Ramirez ended his 19-year career with 555 home runs and is still awaiting induction into the Hall of Fame.