Long Live THE King!

Baseball legend Henry Aaron, whose 755 career home runs made him baseball’s all-time home run leader for 33-years, finished the 1973 Major League baseball season with 713 career home runs.

At that time, one “dinger” short of Babe Ruth’s lifetime record of 714 home runs.

The number “714” made so revered by Ruth in sports and popular culture that if you can think of a more significant numeral in sports lore, I’d love to hear it.

Though Henry only needed one home run to tie THE Babe’s record and two to make the record his own “Hammerin’ Hank,” as he was often referred, was not sure he was going to make it.

Aaron fit the type to be America’s hero and home run champion. A clean cut man from rural Alabama, Aaron had remarkable skills on the field. He was handsome and smart and at age 41 a star in America’s National Pastime. And he had been for 21-years, making it to the majors in 1954 at age 19.

But Henry Aaron was black.

And in 1974 Atlanta and the United States as a whole, that was enough to not want this man who hit the ball so hard they had to call him “Hammer,” to be the all-time home run champ.

Letter! We Get Letters!

Racists who did not want to a black man break the revered record made their hatred known.

Some letters so graphic that while I felt it was important for me to share their history with you here, I do so with that warning. Here and here.

The FBI and Aaron’s own fortitude kept Hank and his family alive during the off-season. On opening day of the 1974 baseball season, THE Hammer hit his Ruth-tying 714th “tater.”

April 8, 1974

Despite the strain of all that hatred (which Aaron never spoke of at that time), Henry found the strength to step away from the safety of the dugout and into the batters box. He had read the letters from those who threatened sniper fire yet stood there. Alone. At home plate in Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium.