Today in sports history (1974), Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. Ruth finished his career with 714 home runs in 1935. His home run record stood for 39 years. Many did not want this record to be broken, given how beloved he had become. With many not wanting the record to be broken, many thought that it would not be broken. One man had different plans though.
When Aaron took over for Bobby Thompson in 1954, nobody knew what was to come. Aaron bashed his 715th home run as a part of the Atlanta Braves. Though Hank Aaron’s competition was on the diamond, he found much more resistance outside of the diamond.
Hank Aaron Battles Pitching and Racism on his Home Run Journey
Like I said before, Ruth was such a popular celebrity and image in American culture that many didn’t want him to lose this record. When Aaron entered the MLB, civil unrest in the United States was at a premium. Aaron grew up in Mobile, AL, which was very segregated. Letters, which are on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame, describe what Aaron faced in his career. Things including death threats, racist taunts and overall threatened violence were just a pinch of Aaron’s day. Through all of this, he did what he set out to do and become the all-time leading home run hitter. These threats were so personal and constant that the CIA became involved.
Legendary broadcaster and Brewer Bob Uecker spoke on his friendship with Aaron, saying that the two became very close in their time in Milwaukee together. Uecker remarked that the hate didn’t stop after Aaron hit 715. Even Uecker got hate mail for being a close friend of Aaron and talking about him on the radio.
Though this was the case, it didn’t stop Hank Aaron. He actually saw support from a lot of media members and baseball fans at the time. Charles Schultz, who is famous for creating Peanuts, wrote a strip of Snoopy trying to break Ruth’s record but stopping due to hate mail. Ruth’s wife, Claire Hodgson, said that if Ruth was still alive, he would have been rooting for Aaron to break his record.
After hitting one home run in the first series of the year to tie Ruth’s record, the Braves were heading back to Atlanta. In the fourth inning of a game against the Dodgers, Aaron launched 715 off of Al Downing. In what has now become a famous image in baseball history, two college students ran onto the field to greet and congratulate Aaron.