Aaron slammed his way past the Babe in 1974

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Now it was the fourth inning. With a man on first after an error, Downing’s first pitch to Aaron hit the dirt in front of the plate. His second landed on the turf in the Braves‘ bullpen beyond the outfield fence.

“It was a fastball down the middle of the upper part of the plate,” said southpaw Downing, who would finish his career with a 123-107 record over 17 seasons in the major leagues. “I was trying to get it down, but I didn’t. He’s a great hitter. When he gets the pitch he’s looking for, chances are he’s gonna hit it pretty good.”

The ball was retrieved in the bullpen by pitcher Tom House, who then raced to home plate to join the celebration. When he handed it to Aaron, the man of the hour was typically laconic, saying only, “Thanks, kid.”

Aaron toured the bases calmly, gaining an escort from two uninhibited young fans as he rounded second base and a huge “715” flashed on the scoreboard. At the plate, he was greeted by teammates who hoisted him to their shoulders. He shook hands with his father, Herbert, and embraced his mother, Estella, as Downing and the Dodgers‘ infielders moved to the sideline.

Also congratulating Aaron was former New York Giants star Monte Irvin, representing commissioner Kuhn, who was inexcusably and irresponsibly absent because of what he called “a prior commitment” to attend a game in Cleveland. When Kuhn’s name was announced, the crowd booed loudly and rightfully. Finally, after an 11-minute delay, the game resumed.

Soon after, Aaron took a call from President Richard Nixon. And Ruth’s widow, Claire, was gracious enough to send a telegram saying, “I know the Babe was rooting for Henry.”

During a postgame press conference, Aaron was characteristically modest. “Now I can consider myself one of the best,” he said. “Maybe not the best because a lot of great ones have played this game — Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson — but I think I could fit in there somewhere. I just thank God it’s over.”

After ending his playing career, Aaron spent several decades as an executive with the Braves and Turner Broadcasting and often was mentioned in speculation that a former player should be considered as commissioner. But today, at 73, his single greatest achievement remains No. 715.

After hitting it, Aaron told the media mob, “Right now, it feels just like another home run.”

It wasn’t.

c This article previously appeared in a different form.

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