Baseball loses legendary figures, all linked by Hank Aaron’s record-breaking home run


Mike LaChance (Flickr)

Tommy Lasorda was coaching in the Dodger’s organization when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record

Michael Russell, Reporter

When the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers played on April 8, 1974, it became one of the most historic and iconic games in all of baseball.

Baseball’s most hallowed record, Babe Ruth’s 714 home runs, was broken that night. Ruth, widely considered the greatest player of all time, held the record for over 50 years.

The Atlanta Braves’ Hank Aaron hit home run number 715 that night, off the Dodgers Al Downing. The classic film footage of Aaron circling the bases while two young kids who ran onto the field pat him on the back has been replayed countless times.

Fast forward nearly 50 years, and four baseball Hall-of-Famers who were on the field in Atlanta that historic night have all passed away within the last month.

Aaron himself, who went on to hit 755 homers, died Jan. 22.  Aaron has 2,297 RBI, more than any player in history and is third all-time, with 3,771 hits.

In 1999, MLB started the annual Hank Aaron award which goes to the league’s best hitter. Aaron was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002 by President George W. Bush.

Braves knuckleball pitching ace, Phil Niekro died on Dec. 26, 2020.  He started the game prior to Aaron’s record breaking homer on Apr. 7. Niekro led the Braves with 20 wins in 1974 and had 318 in his career. Niekro, who played until age 48, pitched more innings than any MLB pitcher in the last 100 years.

Dodgers pitching ace Don Sutton died on Jan. 19.  Sutton started the game following Aaron’s historic blast.  He won over 20 games in 1974, including a World Series game, and a total of 324 games in his career, good for 14th place all-time. Sutton started more MLB games than any pitcher in history except Cy Young and Nolan Ryan. After retiring as a player, Sutton broadcast Atlanta Braves games for 30 years.

A little-known second-year coach for the Dodgers was also on the field in Atlanta that historic night in 1974. Tommy Lasorda, who died Jan. 7, took over as Dodgers manager in 1976 and continue on for over 20 years.  He won two World Series titles and 1,599 games.  He also managed baseball’s Team USA to their only Olympic Gold medal in 2000.