Forty years ago today, Hank Aaron hit his 715th career home run. It moved him past Babe Ruth and into first place on the all-time homer list. The video is above, though this is one highlight I'm sure you have all seen many, many times. It might be the most famous highlight in baseball history.
The legendary home run did not come without some controversy. Braves' management wanted Aaron to break the record at home, but they opened the season with three games in Cincinnati. The team planned to sit Aaron for the three games, but commissioner Bowie Kuhn ruled he had to play in at least two games.
Aaron, then 40, tied Ruth's record with his 714th career homer in his very first at-bat of the season. He went 0-for-5 with a walk and two strikeouts the rest of the series against the Reds. On the first pitch of his first at-bat of his first home game of the 1974 season, Aaron broke the record with a solo shot off Al Downing, who had a long and excellent career himself.
As you can imagine, Aaron received death threats for months leading up to the record-breaking homer. Newspapers reportedly prepared obituaries in case Aaron was murdered in the days leading up to or just after breaking the record. He also received a lot of support, from fans and the media alike.
Aaron finished that 1974 season with 20 homers, his lowest total since his rookie season in 1954. He played two more years and retired with 755 career home runs, a record that stood until Barry Bonds hit his 756th homer in 2007. Ruth's record stood for 39 years after he retired.
Believe it or not, Aaron only led the league in homers four times in his 23-year career. His career high was 47 home runs in 1971, but he did hit 40+ homers eight times. From 1957-73, only twice did Aaron fail to hit 30+ homers. The man was as consistent as they come.
Aaron turned 80 years old back in February. He was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1982, receiving 97.8 percent of the vote. That is the sixth highest percentage in baseball history and was the second highest at the time, trailing only Ty Cobb.
There are still a lot of people who consider Aaron the all-time home run king, but, either way, he is one of the best and most dominant hitters in the history of the game. Record or no record, he was (and still is) a class act and one of the greatest players who ever lived.