April 8, 2014 was the 40th anniversary of Aaron’s 715th career home run, the one that eclipsed Ruth’s amazing record of 714. In my family, we had all waited for this night. Hammerin’ Hank would finally do it. It was break Babe Ruth’s home run record of 714 home runs. Hank now had 715 and the record.
It was a cold and rainy night. There were three rain delays in that game. They were determined to get the game in. Hank was not to be deterred. It was going to happen on April 8, 1974.
We have the word of what went on from Dusty Baker, the Braves’ 24-year-old center fielder, who was in the on deck circle. Baker clearly recalls Aaron’s words as he headed toward the plate to face Dodgers veteran Al Downing in the fourth inning.
“Hank told me he was going to do it.Hank was a student of hitting; he always studied pitchers, their tendencies. As he went up to hit, he said, ‘I’m going to get this thing over with right now.’ After he hit it, I didn’t want to go to the plate. I was closer to the catcher and pitcher than anybody, but that was Hank’s moment — a great moment. He earned it.” ~~Dusty Baker
“After they had the ceremony on the field for him that night, I was the next hitter. I heard the clicking of seats, people leaving, when I went up to hit. It was the coldest night I can remember in Atlanta — and one of the greatest nights of my life.”
Al Downing, the pitcher for the Dodgers, drew the honor of serving up the home run pitch. The first time he faced Hank that night, he walked him. Can’t blame him for that. There is some honor in escaping the evening untarnished. But he couldn’t hide for long. They both wore number 44 that night.
I was first introduced to him by [to Hank byYankees catcher] Elston Howard in Spring Training in 1963, in Florida. “The Braves were in West Palm Beach. I remember Elston introducing us and thinking, ‘This is the nicest, most gracious guy for a superstar.’ Hank never really changed.
I walked him first time up, and everybody booed me. It was the second pitch [in a 1-0 count], and I was trying to get the double play. I wanted to get a fastball down in the strike zone, hoping he’d roll over. It was elevated — and ‘The Hammer’ put the hammer on it. ~~Al Downing
Davey Lopez was playing second base for the Dodgers that evening.
It couldn’t have worked out any better, really. Al is such a secure person, he understood the big picture. It was like when Rickey Henderson was Nolan Ryan’s 5,000th strikeout victim. Rickey embraced it. Al was never bothered at all by being part of Hank’s big moment. ~~Davey Lopez
And so magic happened that night. I remember the joy I felt for Hank. He had done something we thought no one would ever be able to do. He did it for himself but it also did a lot for Atlanta.