Hank Aaron passed away back in January at age 86. Baseball has suffered some considerable losses in the past few years: Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Dick Allen, Tony Fernandez, Tom Seaver, Tommy Lasorda and Don Sutton, just to name a few.
It seemed as if Aaron would live forever. Baseball’s “true” home run king was probably the second most influential African-American player in the history of the sport after Jackie Robinson. And an undeniable national treasure and inspiration for all.
One Home Run Changed The Game
Most can’t honestly understand what a single home run meant 47 years ago. After all, we have seen so much change since April 8, 1974. We even had a two-term African American president in Barack Obama.
If you think that was a pipedream in 1974, the same would be said about a black man having the most home runs in Major League Baseball history.
Before that historic blast, four days earlier, Aaron tied the iconic Babe Ruth with a bomb against “The Big Red Machine.
First, Jackie Robinson broke down the color barrier. Then, it was Aaron, making the national pastime ours.
Today is the 47th anniversary of Aaron’s 715th home run. Aaron’s homer off of Dodgers’ Al Downing at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium broke Babe Ruth‘s long-standing record of 714 home runs.
It was a mark most thought would stand forever.
It was such a big deal that not all celebrated. In fact, Aaron was more relieved than happy. Aaron received racist hate mail and death threats. His kids had security people watching over them during their dad’s pursuit of a piece of American history.
He came a long way from Mobile, Alabama. Born on Feb. 5, 1934, Henry Louis Aaron was one of eight children born to Herbert and Estella Aaron. As he challenged the mythical Babe Ruth for MLB’s scared record back in the 70s, he received death threats and racist taunts at the ballparks.
Aaron stood brave and prevailed.
The Braves have honored Aaron in so many ways over the years. In 2014 they wore 40th-anniversary patches on their uniform sleeves to mark the historic occasion. He was revered until his death at age 86.
And while some won’t forget Aaron’s shining moment, he doesn’t always get the props he deserves. After all, Aaron played 23 seasons and nearly averaged 100 RBI a season (2,297 RBI total). His production was as consistent as a windshield wiper and impactful as the words of James Baldwin.
Of course, Barry Bonds, another Black Knight, passed Aaron as baseball’s home run king. Aaron hit 755 and Bonds hit 762. The validity of Bonds’ homers is questioned by many baseball fans and HOF voters to this day.
But nearly a half-century ago, it was Aaron’s blast over the left-field fence in Atlanta that transformed America, allowing black people all over this country to take ownership of the greatest title in the land. Like they were sharing a big pot of Gumbo.
It’s a great moment in our history. A shining moment for Black baseball.