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EXCERPT | April 15, 1974

Hammer's Time

Hank Aaron surpassed baseball's most glorious record

On April 8, 1974, the Braves' slugger hit his 715th homer, breaking Babe Ruth's alltime record with his first swing of the night against Dodgers pitcher Al Downing. Ron Fimrite reported for SI.

It rained in Atlanta during the day, violently on occasion, but it was warm and cloudy by game time. It began raining again just before Aaron's first inconsequential time at bat, as if Ruth's phantom were up there puncturing the drifting clouds. The rain had subsided by Aaron's next time up, the air filled now only with tension. Henry wasted little time relieving that tension. It is his way. Throughout his long career Aaron had been faulted for lacking a sense of drama, for failing to rise to critical occasions, as Mays, say, or Ted Williams had. He quietly endured such spurious criticism, then dispelled it for all time. And yet, after it was over, he was Henry Aaron again.

"Right now," he said without a trace of irony, "it feels like just another home run. I felt all along if I got a strike I could hit it out. I just wanted to touch all the bases on this one."

He smiled slightly, conscious perhaps that his words were not sufficient to the occasion. Then he said what he had been wanting to say since it became apparent that he would eventually pass Ruth and achieve immortality.

"I feel I can relax now. I feel my teammates can relax. I feel I can have a great season."

It is not that he had ever behaved like anyone but Henry Aaron. For this generation of baseball fans and now for generations to come, that will be quite enough.

Aaron, 40, hit 20 homers in 1974. He retired two years later with 755.

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The Babe's Curse

1961

Roger Maris, whose 61 homers broke Ruth's single-season record, endured unrelenting scrutiny as he neared the end of his chase, quarreling with fans as well as reporters.

1998

Mark McGwire bested Maris with his 62nd homer, but rumors about his use of performance-enhancing drugs (in January, he admitted to past steroid use) tainted his record.

2007

Barry Bonds hit his 755th homer to tie Aaron's mark en route to reaching 762. But Bonds's link to an admitted steroid dealer has left his record as stained as McGwire's.

GALLERIES LeBron James NBA Playoffs

Roger Espinoza MLS

Nicklas Backstrom NHL Playoffs

PHOTO

Photograph by TONY TRIOLO

BIG NIGHT Before the low-key Aaron hit his homer, he endured a pregame salute that included a marching band and majorettes. Afterward there were fireworks, balloons and a ceremony at home plate.

PHOTO

JOHN G. ZIMMERMAN

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V.J. LOVERO

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BRAD MANGIN

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DAMIAN STROHMEYER (BRADFORD)

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JEREMY BREVARD/SOUTHCREEK GLOBAL (BERRY)

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LOU CAPOZZOLA (BACKSTROM)

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G. NEWMAN LOWRANCE/GETTY IMAGES (ESPINOZA)

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JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (JAMES)

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BILL FRAKES (SPILLER)

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GREG NELSON (SUH)