"There were times during the chase when I was so angry and tired and sick of it all that I wished I could get on a plane and not get off until I was someplace where they never heard of Babe Ruth. But damn it all, I had to break that record. I had to do it for Jackie [Robinson] and my people and myself and for everybody who ever called me a ni—.”
— Hank Aaron explains, in his autobiography I Had a Hammer, why he chased Babe Ruth’s home run record despite being taunted with racial slurs, his life being threatened, and receiving racist hate mail. The Baseball Hall of Famer, who was known as “Hammer” or “Hammerin’ Hank,” hit his 715th home run on April 8, 1974, breaking Ruth’s longstanding record. He would go on to hit 755 homers in his career, a record that stood for more than 30 decades. Aaron, who was a civil rights activist on and off the field, passed away at age 86 on Jan. 22, 2021, just two weeks before his birthday on February 5.