top of page

April 8, 1974: The day fifty years ago that Hank Aaron passed the Babe

Monday 4/8/24

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's all-time home run record of 714. I don't even think about Barry Bonds as the current holder of the record. I don't think about him much at all. It's hard for me to seriously credit Bond's late career numbers. Does anyone? I'm sure there are probably some, but I was talking about Hank Aaron, who I believe is the perfect baseball player.

I've always been into Hank Aaron. One Christmas as a teen I received a Hank Aaron Hartland statue, and my excitement was extreme. I rate him as the fourth best baseball player of all-time, behind Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Ted Williams, but if I could have any player's career, it would be Aaron's.

He was awesome for the longest time without interruption. There's nothing like his career consistency in baseball. Tom Brady was like that, Ray Bourque, Gordie Howe. Anyone else?

Willie Mays has been built up into this god while Aaron has taken this kind of hit as a less flashy puncher of the clock. These two are linked because they were almost perfect contemporaries, they were in the same league, and for a long time you had one guy as the all-time leader in home runs and the other guy at number three. They were in every All-Star game together on the same team. They're bunched at the top in so many career categories.

Aaron was more consistent. Okay, so Mays may have been the better fielder, but Aaron won Gold Gloves, so it wasn't like he was some fielding slouch. I think of Mays as more of an athlete, but Aaron as the quintessential baseball player. This sounds crazy to say, perhaps, but he still doesn't get the credit he deserves as a hitter. It's almost as if his consistency is held against him--subconsciously, maybe, but all the same.

You know who reminds me a bit of Aaron? Mookie Betts. Why? Because like Aaron, Betts is a wrist hitter. Guys who are wrist hitters can rack up the numbers for a long time, so long as those wrists stay healthy. That's one reason why I think you're going to see Betts look a lot better statistically than Mike Trout when the careers of both players are over.

Aaron was before my time, but I read everything about him from the age of like six-years-old on. And he was pure class and dignity. There has to be something wrong with you not to respect the hell out of Hank Aaron.

It was always kind of weird to me that he broke that record in 1974, and then he was on the Brewers by the next year, because you'd think Aaron would have necessarily finished with the Braves after he broke that record. You always see people talking about Mays finishing his career on the Mets, with people wishing they had never seen him in a Mets uniform because it was sad that he was such a shell of himself. I detest that kind of talk. What did you want him to do? Stay 1954 Mays forever? Appreciate that you got to see him some more, and let the player have his career for as long as his play says he deserves it.

But Mays was more revered than Aaron, held up as this supernatural talent, which is why people bemoaned his Mets stint. The mythical being had become an average-at-best ballplayer trying to extend his career. That's a lot of guys, right? Most guys. But people couldn't stand it being Willie Mays, whereas, they were less troubled by it being Henry Aaron.

Aaron was never romanticized like Mays was. Mays, Rose, Mantle, and DiMaggio are romanticized more than any other baseball players. Listen to some old-timer talk about Willie Mays. You wouldn't think he was human. People don't talk about Aaron that way, and he gave you more value over the whole of his career than Mays did over his. There's little that's said or written about Aaron as a Brewer, as if his career came to a close right around that time of his record-breaking home run. We all remember the visual--Aaron doing his standard dignified, professional, brisk trot around the bases, those guys on the field following him in their excitement. That's a revealing juxtaposition: fans going nuts, Aaron being the professional he always was. I admire that.

He actually hit a home run at Fenway with the Brewers, which was his lone homer there. One has to understand what that home run record meant. Now we talk about OPS+ and WAR, but you know what? No one will ever care about those things--anything pertaining to modern analytics--like they did that record. That record was magical, hallowed, bigger than sports. It was like the stuff of imagination, which Hank Aaron made real.


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page