Hank Aaron’s pursuit of Babe Ruth’s home run record looked like a pipe dream. Ruth was the only player to even hit 600 home runs, let alone the 714 he retired with. Yet, Henry Aaron kept going and on April 4, 1974, the Atlanta Braves legend joined Ruth atop the all-time home run list.
What happened on the day Hank Aaron hit his 714th home run, and how did the baseball world react? Let’s take a trip back through time.
Hank Aaron’s 714th home run was a controversial one
Hank Aaron was one of the game’s greatest power hitters throughout his career. It wasn’t until the 1973 season that the possibility of a new home run king became feasible. Aaron hit 40 home runs in 1973 and ended the season one home run shy of tying Babe Ruth.
The Atlanta Braves opened the 1974 season in Cincinnati. Aaron was expected to sit the entire series out so he could tie and break Ruth’s record in Atlanta, but MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn intervened and said Aaron needed to play at least two of the three games. Aaron only needed one swing on April 4, 1974, to tie Ruth’s home run record.
Hank Aaron didn’t hit another home run against the Reds. However, he broke Ruth’s record when Atlanta opened its 1974 home slate against the Los Angeles Dodgers four days later.
Aaron’s home run pursuit drew negative feedback
Baseball fans wanted nothing to do with Hank Aaron‘s pursuit of Babe Ruth’s record. Aaron and journalists who covered the home run chase each received death threats.
When the 1973 season ended and Aaron was one home run shy of tying Ruth, Aaron said he feared he wouldn’t live to see the next season. The threats continued even as Babe Ruth‘s widow, Claire Hodgson, said her husband would have cheered Aaron on.
Hank Aaron played in the Negro Leagues and was no stranger to racism. Lewis Grizzard, the Atlanta Journal‘s sports editor, secretly had an obituary written for Aaron in case the legendary slugger was murdered. Hank Aaron turned 86 earlier this year and received the Presidental Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in June 2002.
What else happened in baseball on April 4?
- Hideo Nomo’s Boston Red Sox debut was one to remember. The Japanese right-hander struck out 11 Baltimore Orioles in his second career no-hitter on April 4, 2001. Nomo previously pitched a no-hitter against the Colorado Rockies on Sept. 17, 1996. Nomo went 13-10 with a 4.50 ERA in 33 starts for the 2001 Boston Red Sox.
- Chicago Cubs star outfielder Sammy Sosa hit his 500th career home run on April 4, 2003. Sosa’s seventh-inning home run made him the first Latin-American player to join that rare club. Sosa hit 40 home runs in 2003 and Chicago came a game shy of the World Series.
- Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto cashed in big on April 4, 2012. The All-Star finked a 12-year contract worth $251.5 million, which is the longest guaranteed contract in MLB history. Votto has hit .303 with 165 home runs, 543 RBIs, and four All-Star nods in that time. Votto enters the 2020 season on the verge of 2,000 hits and 300 home runs.
- Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story hit two home runs in his MLB debut on April 4, 2016. Story was the first rookie to accomplish that feat on Opening Day. Story ended his rookie season with 27 home runs and hit at least 35 home runs each of the past two seasons.