Few records in sports are celebrated years after they’ve been broken. In the court of public opinion, baseball’s single season and career home run marks were set in the 1960’s and 70’s; not the 1990’s and into the 21st century. Interest and value in Hank Aaron 715th home run memorabilia far outstrips anything associated with Barry Bonds’ 762nd. As the 40th anniversary of Aaron topping Babe Ruth for the all-time lead passes, a check of items associated with April 8, 1974, is in order. Here are a few of the most popular items celebrating 715.
1974 Topps #1: Aaron had hit his 713th homer as the 1973 season came to a close, which put Topps Chewing Gum in a bit of a bind. The next season’s cards had to be printed a couple of months before the first game but Topps no doubt felt compelled to honor Aaron in some way. They produced a seven-card retrospective of Aaron’s baseball cards with #2-8. Card number 1 had to be reserved for Aaron but he didn’t yet have the record.
With death threats arriving at the Braves’ offices on a regular basis, the unspeakable couldn’t be completely ignored. Proclaiming Aaron as the new record holder on millions of cards before it actually happened was a bold move, but Topps took the risk. On Opening Night in Atlanta, Aaron took Al Downing deep and Topps execs breathed a sigh of relief. The 1974 Topps Hank Aaron ‘Home Run King’ would become a classic. With a horizontal design, it was certainly unique and memorable. As card #1, it wound up on a lot of stacks carried around by kids and is susceptible to wear. As with all cards, prices vary greatly. Graded NM/MT examples are around $90-110 but lower grade copies are just a few bucks (see them all here on eBay).
Move Over Babe, Here Comes Henry: Aaron’s assault on the record was the topic of conversation in every big league clubhouse and broadcast booth. Legendary Detroit Tigers’ broadcaster Ernie Harwell loved to write and during the ’73 season, he penned a little ditty called “Move Over Babe, Here Comes Henry”. It was recorded by Bill Slayback, a Tigers’ pitcher who went on to a long career in the music industry and later by Richard "Popcorn" Wiley. The 45 RPM record is often available for under $15 today.
715 Home Run Ticket Stubs and Programs: The Braves made sure to print plenty of programs for their opening series, figuring fans would want a souvenir. They picture Aaron on a golf cart with long-time traveling secretary Donald Davidson, who had been with Hank and the team since their Milwaukee days.
Today, you can find the program online for anywhere from $25-100. Ticket stubs are a different story. Many fans have hung on to them over the years. A few unused full tickets are available and they can be pricey. Aaron has been asked to sign many of them over the years, which makes for a very nice piece of baseball history (see stubs, tickets and programs here).
Autographed 715 home run photos: Fortunately, Hammerin’ Hank is still around and still signing autographs. His signature has declined a bit in recent years but contracts with memorabilia companies have kept the supply of autographed Aaron 715th home run photos fairly strong. Aaron’s signature isn’t cheap because of the continuing demand (and what those companies have to pay to get him to sit down for an autograph session). The most popular photo is one taken directly behind home plate at the very moment Aaron sent the ball toward the Braves’ bullpen. These are 16x20 in size. Pitcher Al Downing is captured on his follow-through with the scoreboard in the background and the glare of stadium lights shining above.
Downing has been good natured about his role in history and you can find photos signed by both men. Downing has dated and inscribed many of them for Steiner Sports which you can see here, along with other items autographed only by Aaron. Other photos are available including an 11x14 single shot of Aaron's swing authenticated by PSA/DNA.
Other 715 Photos: Keen observers can sometimes find other photos of that night online, although for some reason despite a huge media presence, there really isn’t a lot of variety. We kind of like this one. It shows Aaron approaching a mob of teammates at home plate after circling the bases with the scoreboard showing "715" in the background. It's only $3.50.
Magazines and Publications: Sports Illustrated, of course, put Aaron on the cover that week, rushing the iconic photo of Aaron holding the baseball into print at a time when a fast turnaround wasn’t quite as easy to accomplish in the print industry. The cover says simply “715”. It’s a great chronicle of the culmination of the chase thanks to the story inside and that excellent cover and can be purchased for under $15 with a mailing label, a little more for one without.
Aaron was also on the cover of the next SPORT magazine and there’s also a commemorative 715 Collector's Edition magazine that was issued that summer by United Press International and Pinnacle Books, available in soft and hard cover.
Autographed baseballs: Aaron has signed thousands of baseballs. Some have the ‘715’ inscription added. A few can be found with Downing's signature too. On the 30th anniversary of the home run in 2004, Aaron signed and numbered 44 balls that included a description of the 715th home run game (see one here).
Telegrams: It seems like such an ancient form of communication in an era of instant communication worldwide, but back then if you wanted to congratulate someone immediately and couldn’t get them on the phone, you sent a telegram. Aaron received thousands from around the world. Some were from famous people, some were from fans who simply wanted to reach out, even if it wasn’t likely Hank Aaron was going to actually read it. Quite a few of these are available online, some autographed by Aaron at a later date.
Newspapers: A lot of people saved the next day’s newspaper as a souvenir—and it was headline news from coast to coast. Oddly, the Des Moines Register used its headline to take commissioner Bowie Kuhn to task for not being at Fulton County Stadium that night.
Patches: In 1999, the Braves wore patched to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the home run. Exact replicas can be found for around $20 on Amazon.com. The Braves committed to wearing a 40th annivesary patch throughout the 2014 season as Aaron’s milestone is celebrated once again. Those are slightly cheaper and can be found here.
Bobble heads: The Braves had plans to honor Hank throughout 2014 and of course, you knew there had to be a bobble head night, right? See them here.
What unique 715 memorabilia do you have?