When you beat a record set by Babe Ruth, you tend to get remembered. Curator and deputy chair of the Division of Culture and the Arts Eric Jentsch shares Aaron's story.
This baseball season marks the 40th anniversary of Hank Aaron's record-setting 715th home run. The feat, accomplished on April 8, 1974, established Aaron as Major League Baseball's all-time home run champion, besting Babe Ruth, who had last set the record in 1935. Finishing his career with 755, "The Hammer" was baseball's home run king until 2007, when Barry Bonds broke his record.
Born in Mobile, Alabama, in 1934, Henry Louis Aaron first began playing baseball professionally as a teenage shortstop for the Negro American League's Indianapolis Clowns.
In 1952, he signed a major league contract with the Milwaukee Braves, making his first appearance for the club in 1954. Aaron played right-field with the Braves for almost the entirety of his major league tenure, following the club in its move to Atlanta in 1966. In 1975, he returned to Milwaukee as a member of the city's new team, the Brewers, for his final season.
Aaron's on-field exploits fill baseball's record books. Finishing his career with a .305 batting average, the 25-time all-star still holds records for most total bases (6,856) and runs batted in (RBI) (2,297). Besides being second in all-time home runs, Aaron is currently third all-time in hits (3,771) and in games played (3,298).
Despite his accomplishments, Aaron dealt with racism throughout his career. As he neared Ruth's mark, he received thousands of letters daily, much of it hate mail, including threats to his life.
This is one reason that, while it no longer stands atop baseball's record books, Aaron's 715th home run continues to be remembered. Exemplifying both the ordeals and triumphs of civil-rights era America, it remains a significant and powerful milestone in our nation's cultural history.