Baseball fans are marking the 40th anniversary of Hank Aaron's 715th home run, which broke the record held by Babe Ruth for over 50 years. The pitch that Aaron took over the right field fence on that night in April was a sinker by Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Al Downing that simply didn't sink.
Major League Baseball, the popularity of which has diminished over the years, hails it as one of its most iconic moments, one unblemished by the contemporary controversies of the Steroid Era. Or as one sportswriter put it quite effusively:
No other night in the history of baseball is more deeply embedded in American cultural history than April 8, 1974. The nights that Fisk waved it fair, Buckner missed the grounder, Gibson took Eckersley deep and Ripken broke Gehrig's record are forever iconic, too. But 1974 was just 10 years after passage of the Civil Rights Act and baseball still was the undisputed national pastime that commanded the attention of America. More than half the televisions in the country were tuned to the previous World Series, contested between the Oakland Athletics and the New York Mets, even though four of the seven games were day games. No sport was bigger than baseball, and no name was bigger than Ruth's. So big was the potential of a new home run record that NBC, which had the rights to Monday Night Baseball in the summer, scrapped its regular Monday night spring programming and broadcast the game against top 10 CBS shows Maude and Rhoda. The game delivered a strong 22.3 rating and 36 share. (No World Series game has seen that kind of a share since 1997 Game 7.)
Aaron ultimately retired in 1976 with 755 home runs. His record was infamously broken by Barry Bonds, godson of baseball great Willie Mays, in 2007. At the time even Major League Baseball commish Bud Selig couldn't heap praise upon Bonds' moment without referencing the performance-enhancing drug scandal that plagued his pursuit of Aaron's mark. Selig, who skipped the game in which Bonds hit his 756th homer, said this at the time:
“While the issues which have swirled around this record will continue to work themselves toward resolution, today is a day for congratulations on a truly remarkable achievement.”
But let's not think about that. For now, enjoy the footage of Aaron's big moment here.