Hank Breaks the Babe’s HR Record

Let’s take a quick Kevin Bacon-like trip and work our way to the night of April 8, 1974, when Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves hit his 715th career home run and broke Babe Ruth’s home run record.

The Prelude

Everybody knows about Terry Francona, the great Indians and Red Sox manager.

Some people even know about Terry’s father, Tito Francona.

The final game of Tito’s career was played was on September 29, 1970. He pinch-hit and struck out. The winning pitcher in that 4-3 Oakland victory over the American League Milwaukee Brewers was Catfish Hunter. The losing pitcher was Al Downing. That was the last game #36 Downing pitched for the Brewers.

On February 10, 1971, Downing was traded to the Dodgers for Andy Kosco and donned #44 in Dodger Blue. That season Downing had his only 20-win year going 20-9 with a 2.68 ERA.

The next two seasons, Downing was a .500 pitcher, so when he stepped on the mound for his first start of the 1974 season, he really wanted to turn things around.

The Game

The date was April 8, 1974. The scene was Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium and there was a national TV audience watching as #44 for the Atlanta Braves, Henry Aaron had 714 homers, the same as Babe Ruth.

In the 2nd inning Downing walked Aaron, an event that pleased no one. Think about it, no one wanted Aaron to walk.

In the bottom of the 4th, the Dodgers led 3-1 and leading off for the Braves was Darrell Evans, no relation to Dwight Evans other than the fact that they share some similar numbers for 20+ year ballplayers in that in 8973 at bats Darrell had 414 homers and in 8996 at bats Dewey 385, and Darrell had 1354 RBI and Dwight 1384. I digress, Evans reached on a Bill Russell error.

Up to the plate came Hank.

And it was Vin Scully who described to a national audience the pitch on 1-0 and the Aaron swing that sent the ball flying into the Braves’ bullpen in left-center field and caught by pitcher Tom House.

House recalled, “I honestly have no recollection of anything until I got to home plate where a whole lot of players, coaches and miscellaneous people were surrounding Aaron, his mom, and his bodyguard, Calvin Wardlaw.

I pushed my way through the crowd and as I got to Aaron, who was hugging his mother, I reached out with the ball and said, “Here it is Hammer.” He took it from me and said, “Thanks, kid.” “What stunned me were the tears in his eyes and on his cheeks.”

And Vin also described the Dodger left fielder going way up the fence to try to catch the ball before it became baseball’s most historic homer.

Just so you know, that Dodger was Bill Buckner who was the left fielder and would have his own historic moment 12 years later.

Postscript

My favorite Al Downing quote: “I never say ‘seven-fifteen’ anymore. I now say ‘quarter after seven.’”

 

Home Run Champions by Era

Pre-Historic Era – Harry Stovey finished his career in 1893 with 122 “homers.”

Dead Ball Era – Roger Connor retired in 1897, with 138 homers.

National Pastime Era – Babe Ruth rescued baseball and captured the imagination of the world with his 714 homers.

Integration Era – Henry Aaron – 755 homers

Steroid Era – Barry B*nds – 762 specious homers