Hank Aaron’s 715th home run remains one of baseball’s iconic events. There have been photos and videos covering the magical moment when Aaron slammed a 1-0 pitch from Al Downing into the left-field bullpen at Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium to pass Babe Ruth on baseball’s all-time home run list on April 8, 1974.
Think you’ve seen every angle? Think again.
A Virginia woman has photos her aunt took from the stands behind third base on that night. The 28 3-inch-by-5-inch photographs are relatively clear considering their age, and while taken from a distance (zoom lenses were not readily available in 1974 for the casual photographer), provides the viewer with a different perspective on a historic night.
The photos were part of a collection owned by Janet Maffett, who worked at a downtown Atlanta bank and was a frequent visitor to Fulton County Stadium. Photos taken that night caught the electric buzz that ran through the stadium after Aaron homered.
Maffett’s niece, Janet Franks of Virginia Beach, had the photos in storage for the last few years. When Aaron died on Jan. 22 — two weeks before his 87th birthday — Franks’ brother remembered the photographs.
“The reason they came to light was, when Aaron passed away, my brother called and asked about the photos and whether I still had them,” said Franks, 55, who is a retired travel agent. “I said, ‘I thought so’ and went to the storage unit, and there they were in a plastic baggie.”
The black-and-white photos, on 3-inch-by-5-inch Kodak paper, show Aaron at bat and the moments after he connected off Downing.
Other shots show the Fulton County Stadium scoreboard lit up with “715,” signifying Aaron’s record clout, with Dodgers left fielder Bill Buckner standing in front of the bullpen after his futile effort to climb the fence to catch the towering fly ball.
Other shots in Maffett’s collection shows her sitting in the stands with a friend, drink in hand.
Franks said her favorite shot was of a Chevrolet Nova that was driven onto the field during pre-game ceremonies.
Maffett even caught a shot of the two 17-year-old youths — Britt Gaston and Cliff Courtenay — who famously ran onto the field and caught up with Aaron to “escort” him between second and third bases.
Other shots show the celebration at home plate when Aaron scored.
Franks says she’s curious about what the unique collection of previously unknown images might be worth 47 years after Aaron’s famous blast.
Franks said her aunt, who never married, was a big baseball fan. But then again, her entire family was into sports.
“My aunt went regularly to Braves games,” Franks said. “And my family was heavily into Georgia Bulldogs football.
“If you weren’t a fan (of UGA) you weren’t allowed in the house.
“But we still laugh about my grandma.”
Irene Maffett, who lived until she was 102, was a diehard fan.
“The best part about watching sports was watching her,” Franks said.
Franks grew up in the Tidewater area of Virginia since her father, Robert Franks, was in the Navy and was stationed there for 33 years. But the rest of her family spent their lives in Walton County, east of Atlanta.
Janet Maffett, who was born in Social Circle, Georgia, on March 16, 1930, never married. She died Oct. 10, 2002, and her mother, Irene, was cleaning out Janet Maffett’s home when she found the photos and gave them to Janet Franks.
The Franks family was from nearby Monroe, and the two towns were so close and so small that “they probably shared a traffic light.”
Janet Maffett opened a women’s clothing store in Monroe, and Franks would get her school clothes there when her family traveled to Georgia on vacations.
The family was large, with Chester and Irene and their children living with a brother, Woodson Maffett, at one point.
For a time, the Maffetts also lived in a large home in Social Circle that now houses the Blue Willow Inn, which opened in 1991. According to The Covington News, the old mansion, built in 1917, was an institution in the small town. Also known as the Bertha Upshaw home, the inn attracted national attention from Atlanta columnist Lewis Grizzard for its home cooked, buffet-style Southern meals.
Thousands of photographs were probably taken when Aaron hit his historic home run. Fans can browse the internet and watch and hear versions of the home run call by Braves announcer Milo Hamilton (“That ball’s gonna beeeee … outta here! It’s gone! It’s 715!”) or Vin Scully, who did the national broadcast for NBC (“What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world.”).
Janet Maffett captured that marvelous moment on film, one of many baseball fans that night to record the event with her photos. Remember, these were taken in the age before cellphones, so they certainly have some historic value.
“Aren’t they amazing?” Franks asked, knowing the answer.