40 years ago this week Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run. Michael Amity argues Hammerin’ Hank did more than just break a record.
On yesterday’s date, in 1974, the Hammer came down. 715 changed the world in my opinion.
Hank Aaron changed baseball by shattering many important hitting records. He still holds the top spot in runs batted in (2,297), extra base hits (1,477), total bases (6,856) and most years with 30 or more home runs (15). That’s saying a lot, given we’ve survived the catastrophic-for-the-sport juicing era.
Statistics have always mattered in baseball, but Aaron wasn’t just consistent on the field. He handled racism throughout a career that spanned the civil rights era. He stood out with fantastic resilience, becoming the top-man statistically.
I can’t imagine being in Aaron’s shoes, making it through a time when America was struggling to be more equal. And also, it was for the love of the game, as this all occurred before the Free Agency era began.
Aaron had ended the ’73 season exactly tied with Babe Ruth, god of baseball, for the record of 714 Home Runs. So when April 1974 came, Aaron was not just getting old, and his numbers and health declining, but he had endured months of grueling anticipation and vitriol hurled at him, including death threats. It was clear what this milestone meant to everyone who had emotionally invested in a national pastime.
Hitting number 715 proved a lot to a lot of people. It dispelled a great deal of ignorance. People who doubted the significance of Jackie Robinson’s legacy could doubt no more. Babe Ruth wasn’t a God, anymore than Hank was. The point is they were equal. And that is the point of sports, really, to be the great equalizer.
You can hear Hank Aaron describe his big moment here: http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=10749123&categoryid=2378529.
He says the impact of his work is better understood now than it was back then. Do you agree?
Photo: Harry Harris, AP