Henry Aaron hits home run No. 715
Henry Aaron finished the 1973 season with 713 career home runs, then waited all winter for his appointment with destiny.
In Aaron-like, workmanlike fashion, the Braves slugger quickly ended the drama just four games into the 1974 campaign.
On April 8, 1974, Aaron’s fourth-inning home run off the Dodgers’ Al Downing gave him 715 for his career and sent him past Babe Ruth on baseball’s all-time list. The homer came on the heels of an Opening Day blast against the Reds’ Jack Billingham that left Aaron tied with Ruth.
After sitting out the Braves’ second game of the three-game set with the Reds on April 6, Aaron returned to the lineup April 7 and went 0-for-3, setting the stage for the Braves’ first home game of the year the following night against the Dodgers.
Aaron drew a walk leading off the bottom of the second inning, leaving the sellout crowd of 53,775 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium restless. Aaron quickly scored on a double by Dusty Baker, giving the Braves a 1-0 lead. The Dodgers, who would go on to win the National League pennant in 1974, took a 3-1 lead in the top of the third inning. A single by Downing scored the soon-to-be 1974 NL Most Valuable Player, Steve Garvey, who was batting seventh that night, with the Dodgers’ first run. Downing and Davey Lopes later scored on a double by Jim Wynn to make it 3-1. But in the bottom of the fourth, Darrell Evans reached on an error by Dodgers shortstop Bill Russell to lead off the frame. Aaron followed by hitting a 1-0 pitch from Downing over the left-centerfield wall to tie the game – and surpass Ruth. “He’s sitting on 714,” said Braves broadcaster Milo Hamilton right before one of the most famous swings in baseball history. “Here’s the pitch by Downing. Swinging. Here’s a drive into left center field. That ball is gonna be … outta here! It’s gone! It’s 715! There’s a new home run champion of all time, and it’s Henry Aaron.” The Braves would add two more runs in the fourth to take a 5-3 lead that would turn into a 7-4 victory. Following Aaron’s home run, Downing walked Dusty Baker and Davey Johnson, prompting Dodgers manager Walter Alston to call on relief pitcher Mike Marshall – one of his record 106 appearances that season. Downing was charged with the Dodgers’ loss, while Ron Reed picked up the win for the Braves with the help of a save from Buzz Capra. With the Braves leading 7-4 entering the eighth inning, Atlanta manager and future Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews removed Aaron from the game in favor of Rowland Office. Aaron would hit 40 more home runs over the course of the rest of the 1974 season and the 1975-76 campaigns with the Milwaukee Brewers, leaving him with 755 for his career. Aaron’s 2,297 RBI and 6,856 total bases remain big league records.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
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