In 1961, Yankees teammates Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle had a mesmerizing season with both chasing Babe Ruth’s single season home run record. Ultimately, Maris broke it with 61 while Mantle, who was hospitalized with an abscessed hip late in the season, finished with 54.
The stress of it was devastating for Maris, who actually started to lose his hair as a result.
So you can imagine how difficult it must have been for Hank Aaron when he approached Babe Ruth’s career home run record in 1974.
Aaron got to 713 very near the end of 1973 but had to wait over the summer to actually break it. And that made life much tougher.
In 1974, there were a lot of White fans who didn’t want Aaron, a Black man, to break Ruth’s record. He got a lot of hate mail over the summer and, even more disgustingly, a number of death threats.
It must have been a terrible fall and winter for Aaron and his family.
When the season started up again, it didn’t take long for him to get the record: after a three-game stand in Cincinnati, where Aaron tied the record, the Braves came home to Atlanta and Aaron knocked one out #715.
When he started to round the bases, two students rushed up to pat him on the back, then falling back.
But the most difficult moment came when he reached home base. You’ll see his mother rush up and hug him hard, not willing to let go.
Only later did we learn that she was holding him so tight to shield him: she was terrified that one of the people who made death threats would try to murder him.
Here’s what Vin Sculley had to say as he called the historic moment: “What a marvelous moment for baseball; what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia; what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron ... And for the first time in a long time, that poker face in Aaron shows the tremendous strain and relief of what it must have been like to live with for the past several months.“