The number “715” stood as the pinnacle of all baseball records for 33 years. Henry (Hank) Aaron, a former Negro League baseball player, had the quickest wrists in baseball history and an ability to defy the aging curve. Even with a good chunk of his career occurring during a pitchers' era in the mid-60’s to early-70s, Aaron continued to chip away at Babe Ruth’s record of 714 career homeruns. After hitting the first pitch of his season over the fence to tie Babe in Cincinnati, the whole world knew that their first chance to see the record be broken would be Monday, April 8, 1974. The entire nation would have access to this game through NBC Sports national broadcast.
Yet, with all those television sets and affiliates tuned in and turned on for this game, we have no real accounting of what has survived and what hasn’t. Since that warm April night in Georgia, only bits and pieces of Hank’s at-bat have been shown ad nauseam. Here is an attempt to compile it all and see what we have.
The sources we are using are MLB.com clips, Baseball Seasons 1974, and a YouTube video uploaded from an unknown source. Most clips start in the 4th inning with Dodger’s pitcher Al Dowling (who ranks up there with Ralph Branca as the most dubiously remembered pitchers in baseball history) delivering that fateful pitch to home plate. However, some clips give us a few moments before that.
Aaron was the second batter of the inning. Darrell Evans reached on an error by Bill Russell. As you can see, we get television shots of Dowling throwing warm up pitches. We also see Aaron kneeling in the on-deck circle, waiting for his turn at-bat.
The clips of Downing getting loose could be from between innings or actually to start the game. When you look at things like the Archival TV Audio Inc. site, they list that the NBC broadcast had a pregame ceremony (as was stated during the 714 on-field celebration) as well as the first inning at-bats. Depending on their source for their recordings, it could actually be from a videotape.
Most highlight clips go straight to the second pitch of the at-bat. Some, however, give us the first pitch which was a ball in the dirt. Aaron, obviously not overly anxious, doesn't offer.
"Here's the pitch by Downing... swinging... there's a drive into left-center field... that ball is gonna beeee... OUTTA HERE! IT'S GONE! IT'S 715! There's a new home run champion of all time... and it's HENRY AARON!"
Here is where the footage differs. On most clip show broadcasts and what we usually see on television, we see Aaron round second base, be congratulated by the two field crashers and then we get a shot of the outfield sign featuring both Aaron and Ruth. However, in the Vin Scully narrated clip, we see Aaron from the centerfield camera rounding third base. The difference in the shots could be one of two things; either over the years MLB has intercut the filmed image of the sign into the clip or we have two surviving television broadcasts.
We know that multiple audio clips of the homerun have lived on. Archive.org posted the three audio calls of the homerun featuring Curt Gowdy on NBC TV, Milo Hamilton on Braves radio and the timeless Vin Scully on the Dodgers radio network.
NBC’s color broadcast footage is hit and miss in the early 70s. We have the entirety of the 1971 All-Star Game on color videotape, yet only partials of the 1972 game. The 1974 World Series exists mostly complete on color videotape, as well as the 1974 All-Star Game. It is not outside the realm of reasonability that NBC or MLB would or should have kept the complete tape of the Hank Aaron homerun. If the game had been kept in a complete state in MLB’s archives, it would have been sold or disseminated on their many broadcast and online avenues.
In more modest attire, a young Craig Sager fights his way into the scrum at home plate.
Repeated attempts over the last 5 years to contact Major League Baseball about information have failed to garner much in the way of a response.
Are we looking at two different broadcast clips here? Is this just an alternate angle that NBC showed during an in-game replay? I open this post up to the readers. What is the maximum length of the 715 footage you have seen? By estimation, we’ve seen 5 full minutes compiled together from different sources.