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When I was in second grade, I did a book report about Hank Aaron. I told my class about his 715th home run, hit on April 8, 1974, off Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Al Downing. I gave a statistical rundown of this great player, and knowing me, I'm sure I drew an "in action" picture of Hammerin' Hank.
Now that the 34th anniversary of this momentous homer is here, I pause to reflect.
That record, and Aaron's eventual total of 755 homers seemed unassailable to me as I grew up watching baseball. It just seemed that nobody would stick around long enough to challenge it. Year after year, this thought was further emphasized as great home run hitters like Mike Schmidt and Reggie Jackson retired well short of the mark.
Aaron never hit more than 47 homers in a season. He just consistently produced decent numbers throughout the years. He hit for average (lifetime .305 BA), and, in 1973, even managed a 40 homer season at age 39. He ended the 1973 season at 713, needing only one homer to tie. He hit number 714 on April 4th off Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jack Billingham.
And even into baseball's steroid era, the record lived on. Until Barry Bonds came along. He now holds the record, but he has no team, and he also has little to no credibility among the crankier baseball fan base, of which I consider myself.
I remember as a fan how incensed I was when Mark McGwire passed Mantle, Schmidt, Jackson and then Harmon Killebrew on the all-time career homer list. Thankfully, he didn't get to pass Frank Robinson or Willie Mays.
I can only imagine how Aaron must have felt as his record was eclipsed by Bonds. He must have been dismayed at the very least. He endured unimaginable hate mail and death threats simply for hitting home runs. As much as that record probably cost him emotionally, I wish there was some way to put him back on top.
In my mind, anyway, he is still on top. Even if the record books won't show that anymore.
Congratulations, Hank Aaron. You were one of the best, and on this anniversary of your great achievement, I, as a baseball fan and purist, salute you. To me, you are still the Home Run King.
Source: Mostly my memory...and this link for fact checking.
Originally Posted on southjersey-stillers-phillies.blogspot.com on April 7th.