Atlanta Braves fans may want to fire up the memory bank to think about where they were when the legendary Hank Aaron hit home run number 600. It was exactly 43 years today that the 6’0″ 180lb slugger from Mobile, Alabama joined Babe Ruth and Willie Mays as the only players to reach 600 home runs in a career.
The milestone blast came during a home game at Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta. Aaron stepped up to the plate in the second inning to face San Francisco Giants pitcher, Gaylord Perry. Perry who was infamous for his doctoring of the baseball delivered a pitch, probably covered with some type of foreign substance like Vaseline, spit or Slippery Elm tablets to the slugging Hank Aaron. Aaron turned on the pitch from Perry and lined a shot over the left field wall. The blast put him alongside a very exclusive field in Ruth and Mays, eventually passing both on his way to becoming the home run king.
The Atlanta Braves have never been short on big time moments and big time games since their move to Atlanta in 1966. As the Atlanta Braves, they have won one World Series (1995), five National League pennants, and 17 Division titles, including 11 straight from 1995-2005. Individually, they have also had some of the all-time greatest ballplayers in MLB history, including guys like Warren Spahn, Phil Niekro, Greg Maddux and Chipper Jones. There has been a long list of amazing players to grace a Braves jersey, but none as recognizable or as accomplished as Hank Aaron.
Currently, there are eight players that are part of the 600 home run club, however, some of those names like Bonds, Sosa and Alex Rodriguez have been marred by alleged steroid use. While it is impossible to guess or imagine how many home runs the steroid era players would have hit without the banned substances, it is easy to understand how they somewhat tainted the elite club. While baseball officials still debate how to treat baseball records during the steroid era, it remains exciting to look back at the legendary career of Hank Aaron, and see how he was able to join Ruth and Mays at the 600 mark exactly 43 years ago today.
The fascinating part about Hank Aaron is in the actual numbers. Although he hit 755 career home runs, and deserves to still hold on to the tile of home run king, he never hit more than 47 home runs in a season. He is the perfect example of consistency over a long, 23 year career. In his 21 years as an Atlanta/Milwaukee Brave, he averaged just under 35 home runs per season, including a stretch where he hit more than 30 in 13 out of 15 seasons. He was the ultimate warrior, and was walking proof that consistency is key to a long career in MLB.
In spite of a somewhat tainted club, the 600 mark is still an accomplishment that very few will ever achieve. Hank Aaron remains one of the greatest names in baseball history and on that night, 43 years ago today, he hit home run number 600, joining Ruth and Mays in a very elite club. The legend of number 44 was cemented and fans of the Atlanta Braves and MLB had the opportunity to see something truly special. Braves fans had the opportunity to see Aaron hit 133 more home runs in a Braves uniform, while his final 22 came as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Commentary by Johnny Caito