Aaron begins 1974 season by tying The Babe
After sitting on 713 home runs all winter, Henry Aaron needed just one swing to claim his share of the greatest record in all of sport.
On April 4, 1974, Aaron’s relentless excellence brought him within one home run of passing Babe Ruth atop baseball’s all-time list.
“I never wanted them to forget Babe Ruth,” Aaron said. “I just wanted them to remember Henry Aaron.”
Aaron’s assault on Ruth’s record began to gather momentum in 1971 when – at the age of 37 – he hit a career-high 47 home runs for the Atlanta Braves, leaving him with 639 and in striking distance of the Babe’s 714.
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Aaron hit 34 more in 1972 and then an incredible 40 in just 392 at-bats in 1973.
Aaron appeared poised to break Ruth’s record at the end of the 1973 season, but – after hitting 713 on Sept. 29 in the second-to-last game of the year, managed only three singles in the season finale.
After an anxiety-filled winter in which he received death threats, Aaron and the Braves began the 1974 campaign in Cincinnati.
In his first at-bat that season – on April 4, 1974 against the Reds’ Jack Billingham – Aaron hit a three-run home run, driving in Ralph Garr and Mike Lum and drawing him even with Ruth.
But Aaron did not homer in the rest of the series, and the Braves went home to face the Dodgers in a three-game set beginning April 8.
This time, Aaron needed two at-bats – homering in the third inning off Al Downing to pass Ruth.
Aaron went on to play through the end of the 1976 season, finishing with 755 career home runs, 3,771 hits and 2,297 RBI.
His RBI total remains the big league standard for career runs batted in.
“Hank Aaron came up in a totally different time, in times that were totally tougher I think,” said former teammate Bob Uecker. “But for Henry to persist and go through the things he did racially, when he approached the record… Hank is somebody all by himself.”
Craig Muder is the director of communications at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum