COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – For almost 20 seasons, Henry Aaron quietly established himself as one of baseball’s best all-around players.But 39 years ago this week, Aaron’s public profile jumped from the sports world to the world stage when his assault on the game’s most revered record became reality.
On April 27, 1971, Aaron connected for his eighth home run of the young season – a two-run, third inning homer off of Gaylord Perry of the San Francisco Giants. The homer was the 600th of Aaron’s career – and came with Aaron still near the prime of his career at 37 years old.To that point, only Babe Ruth and Willie Mays had joined Club 600, with the legendary Ruth sitting on top of this list with 714 home runs. Aaron, who had averaged almost 35 home runs a season for his career to that point, suddenly appeared well within striking distance of the Babe’s mark.“Throwing a fastball by Henry Aaron is like trying to sneak a sunrise past a rooster,” said former big league pitcher Curt Simmons.Not many pitchers got anything by Aaron in 1971. He played a majority of his games at first base that year for the first time in his career, but Aaron showed he still had tremendous bat speed by blasting a career-high 47 home runs for the Atlanta Braves, hitting .327 and drawing a league-best 21 intentional walks in the process.By the end of the 1973 season, Aaron had joined Ruth as the only players to hit at least 700 home runs. Early in the 1974 season, Aaron passed Ruth to become baseball’s home run king.In 1982, Aaron was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first appearance on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot.Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum