Hank Aaron’s 715th Moon Shot Changed the Complexion of MLB’s Sacred Record Books

Most can't honestly understand what a single home run meant 40 years ago.

Most can't honestly understand what a single home run meant 40 years ago.

After all, we have seen so much change since April 8, 1974.

Heck, we even have a sitting, two-term African American president.

If you think that was a pipedream in 1974, the same would be said about a black man having the most home runs in Major League Baseball history.

Not only was it the most prestigious honor in this country, it was something few could believe a black man would have ownership of, especially after being held back from competing until 1947.

First, Jackie Robinson broke down the color barrier. Then, it was Aaron, making the national pastime ours.

Today is the 40th anniversary of Aaron's 715th home run. Aaron's homer off of Dodgers' Al Downing at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium broke Babe Ruth's long-standing record of 714 home runs.

It was a mark most thought would stand forever. After all, to that point, Ruth was considered the best player America had seen.

For Black America, it was a huge sense of pride. It was one of those moments when you knew where you were when you heard Aaron, a black man, was the MLB HR king.

Related Articles  While You Were Working: Victor Cruz Was Getting Paid

So much so, that even Dusty Baker – who had a very good baseball career himself – calls it his greatest moment in his career.

And Baker was simply in the on-deck circle, watching Aaron hit that homer on that unforgettable night.

"People ask me, 'What was the highlight of your career?' That was it," Baker told the AP recently.

It was such a big deal that not all celebrated. In fact, Aaron was more relieved than happy.

He was put through hell getting there. Some couldn't stomach the idea of a black man being The Man.

Aaron received racist hate mail and death threats. His college-age kids had security people watching over them during their dad's pursuit of a piece of American history.

Aaron stood brave and prevailed.

 Aaron, now 80, has enjoyed that moment more so now than when it was happening. Fans have been kind to Aaron as the years have gone on. "It means an awful lot to me," he said.

Related Articles  All Black Everything At The Little League World Series

The Braves will wear an Aaron 40th anniversary patch on their uniform sleeves this season to mark the historic occasion.

And while some won't forget Aaron's shining moment, some, sadly, have forgotten what a great player Aaron truly was.

Of course, many become the prisoner of the moment and believe that whatever they are watching today is better than anything that happened in the past.

We heard that last season with Tigers' slugger Miguel Cabrera, who was trying to win a second straight Triple Crown.

Last August, after Miggy hit two home runs on two straight pitches (a night's sleep in between), there was buzz on social media by fans that Cabrera was the best right-handed hitter in baseball history.

Hold the phone.

Even then-Tigers' manager Jim Leyland said it was too hard to compare.  "The only thing I would say because I would never disrespect people like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, I do think it's harder to hit today because of specialization in the bullpen.

Related Articles  TSL's MLB Midseason Science 

"But I would never get in one of those comparison things. You make yourself look like a fool when you start talking about that."

Despite all the Aaron accomplished in his career, he was definitely underappreciated and overlooked.

It's impossible, however, for real baseball fans to ignore the facts. After all, Aaron played 23 seasons and nearly averaged 100 RBI a season (2,297 RBI total). Plus, if you took away Aaron's 755 HRs from his all-time hits total, he'd still have over 3,000 hits.

Aaron was, and still is, one of the greatest players to ever wear a major-league uniform. He was also a quiet, workmanlike superstar.

Of course, Barry Bonds, another black man, passed Aaron as baseball's home run king. Aaron hit 755 and Bonds hit 762.

But 40 years ago, it was Aaron's blast over the left field fence in Atlanta that changed America, allowing black people all over this country to take ownership of the greatest title in the land.

It's a great moment in our history that should never be forgotten.