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These moments shaped baseball's record book

May 19, 2019

Arguably no other sport’s records are as hallowed as baseball’s greatest marks. Fans can easily recall exact figures from decades past and cherish the numbers that serve as reminders of some of the game’s most extraordinary moments. These are the players behind the greatest record-breaking feats of the past 100

Arguably no other sport’s records are as hallowed as baseball’s greatest marks.

Fans can easily recall exact figures from decades past and cherish the numbers that serve as reminders of some of the game’s most extraordinary moments.

These are the players behind the greatest record-breaking feats of the past 100 years.

Hank Aaron, Braves
April 8, 1974, vs. Dodgers

Unfortunately, Aaron had to battle more than just opposing pitchers while chasing Babe Ruth’s storied Major League record of 714 home runs, as the African-American slugger was inundated with racist taunts and death threats. Aaron even had to sit at 713 homers for an entire offseason before resuming his pursuit in April 1974. After tying Ruth’s record on Opening Day in Cincinnati, the 40-year-old Aaron sat out the next game and went without a home run in the series finale, giving him the chance to break the record in front of the hometown fans.

In the fourth inning of the Braves’ home opener against the Dodgers, Aaron finally hit No. 715 -- crushing a ball off Al Downing into the Atlanta bullpen in left field. As the crowd went crazy, two fans made it onto the field and patted Aaron on the back as he neared third base, and Braves announcer Milo Hamilton delivered his famous call: "There's a new home run champion of all time, and it's Henry Aaron!"

Meanwhile, Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully summed up the magnitude of Aaron’s triumph: "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."

Barry Bonds, Giants
Oct. 5, 2001, vs. Dodgers

Aaron concluded his career with 755 homers, which stood as the Major League record until it was broken by Bonds in 2007. En route to that mark, Bonds set another record six years before, hitting more home runs in a single season than anyone in MLB history. Roger Maris’ then-record of 61 home runs in 1961 stood unmatched until Mark McGwire belted 70 in '98. It took only three years for Bonds to best that total.

Bonds set an incredible pace early in the season, hitting a whopping 39 homers in his first 68 games. After cooling off a bit with only six homers in his next 32 contests, he slugged 25 over 50 games from Aug. 1 through Oct. 4 to tie McGwire’s record heading into the final series of the season at home vs. the Dodgers.

Facing Chan Ho Park in the series opener, Bonds crushed a ball to right-center field for No. 71 in the bottom of the first inning. He didn’t waste any time extending his record, hitting a towering fly ball to center field off Park in his next trip to the plate for No. 72. He added his 73rd home run on the final day of the regular season.

Cal Ripken Jr., Orioles
Sept. 6, 1995, vs. Angels

Before his career tragically ended due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 1939, Lou Gehrig was the "Iron Horse," playing in 2,130 consecutive games from June 1, 1925, to May 2, 1939. The record was long considered unbreakable until Ripken started for the Orioles on May 30, 1982, and didn’t exit the lineup for another 16 years.

In anticipation of Ripken passing Gehrig on Sept. 6, 1995, President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Hall of Famers Frank Robinson and Joe DiMaggio, Ripken’s family and more than 46,200 fans were in attendance at Camden Yards. What was already a magical night became even more special when Ripken homered in the fourth inning -- with Clinton in the broadcast booth -- and play was halted to honor the shortstop after the Orioles recorded the final out in the top of the fifth, making the game official.

With the banners hanging from the B&O Warehouse beyond the right-field gates that read, "2131," Ripken celebrated with his family and was given a lengthy standing ovation by the fans, his teammates and the opposing Angels. The humble Ripken then retreated to the dugout, but the fans remained standing and continued to cheer -- prompting Rafael Palmeiro and Bobby Bonilla to push their teammate onto the field to take a victory lap around the warning track. Amazingly, it was more than 22 minutes before the game resumed.

Joe DiMaggio, Yankees
July 5, 1941, vs. A's

While "Joltin’ Joe" was already an American League MVP Award winner and one of the greatest players of his era by 1941, his sixth MLB season, he cemented his legacy with one of the most impressive feats in the history of baseball: a 56-game hitting streak.

The streak began innocuously on May 15, as DiMaggio went 1-for-4 with a single in a 13-1 loss to the White Sox. But over the next two months, he continued to hit -- and didn’t stop hitting until July 17, when he was 0-for-3 with a walk against the Indians. With a three-run homer on July 2, DiMaggio passed Willie Keeler for the longest single-season hitting streak in history at 45 games. But Keeler had collected a hit in his final game of the 1896 season before beginning the following campaign with a 44-game streak, which meant the "Yankee Clipper" still had work to do to gain sole possession of the longest hitting streak ever.

The Yankees had two off-days following July 2 -- one scheduled and one via a rainout -- allowing anticipation to build as the nation buzzed about the streak. On July 5, DiMaggio stepped to the plate in the first inning and smashed a two-run homer off Phil Marchildon to extend his streak to 46. DiMaggio continued to put distance between himself and Keeler, hitting safely over the next 10 games before his run came to an end. DiMaggio would then compile a 16-game hitting streak, giving him at least one hit in 72 of 73 games from May 15 through Aug. 2.

Best of the rest

Here are some additional record-breaking moments that are an important part of baseball lore.

Mark McGwire, Cardinals
Sept. 8, 1998, vs. Cubs

Thirty-seven years after Maris broke Ruth’s single-season record with 61 homers in 1961, McGwire and Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa waged a home run race for the ages that ended with McGwire hitting 70 and Sosa slugging 66. McGwire was the first to break Maris’ record, belting No. 62 against the Cubs at Busch Stadium as Sosa looked on from right field. Uncharacteristically for McGwire, who was known for his tape-measure blasts, the record-breaking shot was a low line drive that barely cleared the left-field fence. Watch >

Rickey Henderson, A’s
May 1, 1991, vs. Yankees

Henderson became the all-time stolen base king when he swiped third base against Yankees catcher Matt Nokes in the fourth inning of this game, surpassing Lou Brock with his 939th career steal. As the crowd at the Oakland Coliseum gave him a standing ovation and Brock made his way down to the field to offer up his congratulations, Henderson removed third base from the ground and held it aloft in celebration. Watch >

Pete Rose, Reds
Sept. 11, 1985, vs. Padres

Due to the record-keeping practices in the early 20th century, Ty Cobb’s final hit total is disputed, so Rose may have actually passed Cobb to become MLB’s all-time hit king earlier than this date. But at the time, Cobb was widely recognized as having 4,191 hits -- which meant Rose’s coronation came when he tallied his 4,192nd career hit with an opposite-field single vs. the Padres. Watch >

Nolan Ryan, Astros
Sept. 26, 1981, vs. Dodgers

Ryan holds a pair of records that many consider to be unbreakable, as he is the all-time strikeout leader with 5,714 -- 839 K’s ahead of Randy Johnson in second place -- as well as the owner of the most no-hitters (seven) in MLB history. In fact, Ryan set the no-no record when he threw the fifth of his career in 1981, passing Sandy Koufax. Watch >

Roger Maris, Yankees
Oct. 1, 1961, vs. Red Sox

Maris had a difficult time throughout the 1961 campaign, receiving hate mail, getting booed at home and losing his hair from the stress of chasing Ruth’s single-season home run record alongside the more popular Mickey Mantle, his close friend and teammate. But Maris’ final total of 61 home runs -- which he reached on the final day of the regular season to edge Ruth by one -- is now upheld as one of most esteemed marks in baseball history, even though it has been surpassed by others since. Watch >

Thomas Harrigan is a reporter for