He had played in his first big league game 22 years earlier, when Milwaukee’s baseball franchise was the newly arrived Braves. Much had happened to Hank Aaron in the years between that April 1954 game in Cincinnati and October 3, 1976.
The skinny kid from Mobile, AL had won a World Series and played in another. He held numerous records, including the one with which he’d become a household name in America.
As the 42-year-old Aaron and his Milwaukee Brewers took the field on a sunny fall afternoon at County Stadium, there was nothing at stake for the home team or the Detroit Tigers. Both had long since been eliminated from playoff contention. Only 6,868 people turned out to watch the final game of the 1976 season—Hank Aaron’s last as a big league player. Most of the attention in Wisconsin was focused on Lambeau Field in Green Bay, where Bart Starr’s Packers were about to pick up their first win of the season, 28-14 over Detroit’s football team.
Aaron recorded his usual pre-game radio interview with Brewers broadcaster (and former Braves teammate) Bob Uecker, who is, remarkably, still doing the same job today.
The small crowd stood and cheered as Aaron came to the plate for the first time. Batting cleanup as the designated hitter, he grounded out against Tigers starter Dave Roberts. His second trip produced another ground out. In the sixth inning, he hit another bouncer to the hole at short. Jerry Manual got a glove on it but couldn’t come up with it cleanly and Aaron jogged safely to first base.
It was an appropriate time to let him hear the crowd just one more time and manager Alex Grammas sent young Jim Gantner out to pinch run for Aaron. As fans realized what was happening, they stood once again. Aaron gave and wave and one of baseball’s greatest icons was done.
Now, a news photo of the moment Hank Aaron’s career came to an end is at RMY Auctions. The 8×10 Associated Press wire photo includes the original paper caption attached to the back. It’s among hundreds of images in the company’s October Collectors Auction, which runs through Saturday.
The game between the Brewers and Tigers took all of 2 hours and 9 minutes. Everyone, it seems, was anxious to put the 1976 season to bed and head to wherever home was.
A proud man, Aaron was embarrassed by how difficult the game had become. “I’ve been playing on borrowed time the last two years,” he said afterward. “It’s been embarrassing for the kind of career I’ve had to be finishing with a .229 average.”
The quiet way in which his career ended didn’t seem right.
“Kings deserve better,” wrote Mike Gonring of the Milwaukee Journal.
The hit gave Aaron a total of 3,771 for his career. Even if you take away all 755 of his homers, he would still be a member of the exclusive 3,000 hit club.
That final RBI gave Aaron 2,297 for his career, 84 more than second place Babe Ruth. The hit also have him 6,856 total bases, also a major league record.