On April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s celebrated home run record (714) on a pitch from Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Al Downing. The moment is still one of the most iconic in baseball history and Aaron spoke with ESPN’s Mike & Mike this morning to mark the 40th anniversary of hitting 715. Hammerin’ Hank shared his memories of slamming the historic long ball, the evolution of America’s pastime and his feelings about Barry Bonds breaking his all-time home run record in 2007.
"Looking back now after 40 years and thinking about all the things that happened to me, I don’t know that I would do or change anything that happened back then really," said Aaron, reflecting on the highs and lows of his career. "I had some happy times and I had some times that was not so happy."
Though he’s hailed as an American hero today, Aaron, playing for the Atlanta Braves at the time, remembers facing ruthless bigotry and death threats on his way to the record. "Some of the bad memories of course were people being hateful and spiteful for no reason at all really," Aaron told Mike & Mike. The stoic legend handled both the good and bad times with dignity and dedication. "The only thing that I was doing was trying to do the best that I could possibly do."
Aaron still remembers the details of his record-breaking night. "I got a good pitch from him (Al Downing) to hit," he recalled. "I had to take advantage of it.” When Aaron swung he knew he was about to make history. "I guess you hit as many home runs as I hit, you kinda have a feeling when you hit it that it had a chance to go out of the ballpark."
Aaron went on to tally 755 total home runs over 22 years in the majors and retired as baseball’s home run king. His mark stood until 2007 when Barry Bonds hit his 756th home run at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Mike & Mike asked Aaron about his feelings on Bonds, whose career accomplishments have been scrutinized amid heavy speculation that he was using performance enhancing drugs during the later years of his career.
"I have mixed feelings about it," said Aaron. "I didn’t hit as many home runs as Barry Bonds hit. In spite of all the things that happened, he hit more home runs than I hit. I don’t have to accept it. You don’t have to accept it. No one has to accept it. It’s just a matter of saying, 'Hey, you are the home run king.'"
Despite the controversy, Aaron is content with his place in history. The legend left Mike & Mike with some wise words of advice. "If you want to achieve anything in life, you have to take one step at a time… When I talk to any young people about anything, (I say), 'You gotta be able to accept one day at a time…' The most important thing I always try to tell them is, ‘Make sure that you do it right.’"
But Aaron is not above taking advice himself. As important as baseball has been to his life, he knows it’s not the only thing to live for. "As my grandson would always say, and he’s 15 years old now, he says, 'Grandpapa, I just wanted to let you know that it was only a game. And that’s all it is, a game,'" said Aaron. "That’s how I try to look at it."
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(Photo: Bud Skinner/Atlanta Journal Constitution/MCT /Landov)