Aaron's No. 715 turns 50: Celebrating the anniversary of his iconic HR

April 7th, 2024

ATLANTA -- Legendary entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. and future President Jimmy Carter were among the many dignitaries who eagerly arrived at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on April 8, 1974. Vin Scully and an unknown up-and-comer named Craig Sager were among the countless media members who were there the night unseated Babe Ruth to become baseball’s Home Run King.

“It seemed like the only people who weren’t there were the President of the United States and the Commissioner of Baseball,” Aaron wrote in his autobiography, If I Had a Hammer. “Nixon had a pretty good excuse. Congress was on his back to produce the Watergate tapes.”

A feud between the Braves and then-Commissioner Bowie Kuhn simmered during that first week of the 1974 season. Aaron tied Ruth’s record when he hit his 714th home run on Opening Day in Cincinnati. Kuhn insisted Aaron play in the final two games of that series against the Reds. Atlanta owner Bill Bartholomay and manager Eddie Mathews were determined to give Aaron a chance to break the record in Atlanta.

Aaron ended up playing seven innings of the series finale in Cincinnati, but he returned to Atlanta with the opportunity to give the hometown fans a chance to witness what remains one of the greatest moments in sports history.

It didn’t take long for Aaron to take care of business. After walking in his first plate appearance of Atlanta’s home opener, he came to the plate in the fourth inning and sent Al Downing’s pitch over the left-center-field fence at Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium.

Dusty Baker, Ralph Garr, Tom House and some of Aaron’s other 1974 teammates will be at Truist Park on Monday night, when the Braves celebrate the 50th anniversary of Aaron hitting this historic 715th home run. House caught the ball in Atlanta's bullpen and then rushed toward home plate where he proudly handed it to Aaron.

“The main thing we had to do was collect everything after the game,” longtime Braves clubhouse manager and traveling secretary Bill Acree said. “Get the ball. Get the bat. Get this and get that.”

Acree joined the Braves' ground crew staff when the club moved to Atlanta in 1966. He was 18 years old when he became the visiting clubhouse manager in '68. Five years later, he was handling both clubhouses and serving as Atlanta's equipment manager. But at Mathews’ request in '74, Acree vacated his duties in the visitors' clubhouse and focused all his attention on the home clubhouse.

Acree collected an abundance of great memories during his 50 seasons with the Braves. He literally left his mark in many ways. In fact, if you put a black light on the ball Aaron hit for his 715th homer, you will find Acree’s signature.

Once Aaron reached 700 homers during the 1973 season, MLB began to mark the balls. Acree would use invisible ink to put a number and his signature on at least 12 balls before each game. These specific balls would be put in play only when Aaron was at the plate.

The ball, marked 12-12-2-2, that Aaron hit to pass The Babe is located in the Hank Aaron Terrace at Truist Park.

“It wasn’t the Braves’ ball, it wasn’t the Hall of Fame’s ball, it was Hank’s ball,” Acree said. “It was insured by Lloyd's of London and Hank toured with it for many years. [People in Japan] were enamored with Hank. I don’t know how many ungodly dollars they spent to bring him over there to tour with the ball for many years.”

Great memories remain for Acree and the countless individuals who celebrated such an iconic moment 50 years ago.

“It was special and it still is,” Acree said.