This Day In Sports: Hammerin’ Hank’s epic Leap Day deal

February 29, 1972: Hank Aaron becomes the first Major League Baseball player to make $200,000 a year when he inks a three-year deal worth $600,000 with the Atlanta Braves. That was a good investment, as Aaron was just 75 home runs away from Babe Ruth’s career record of 714 in a chase that was captivating the country. Aaron was also coming off a career-best 47-homer season with the Braves. Despite the fact he was one of baseball’s most feared hitters in the 1950s and 1960s, he was finally being appreciated in the early 1970s.

Aaron would play out the contract through 1974, the year has passed Ruth. It wasn’t just the Babe’s record that fell during that stretch. Aaron recorded his 3,000th hit in 1970. In 1971, he set a National League record with his seventh 40-homer season. And toward the end of the 1972 campaign, he broke Stan Musial’s career record of 6,134 total bases.

But it’s Aaron’s pursuit of Ruth’s standard that is chiseled into the history books. Although Hammerin’ Hank tried to downplay it, that’s all anyone talked about during the summer of 1973. So much so that Aaron received stacks of mail every day. The U.S. Postal Service gave him a plaque for receiving the most mail that year outside of politicians—930,000 pieces. Not all of it was pretty, of course. When he finished the season with 713 career homers, one behind Ruth, he wondered if he would live to break the record the following season.

Thankfully he did. Aaron became the Home Run King on April 8, 1974. Then he’d finish his career in 1975 and 1976 with the Brewers in Milwaukee, the city where he played his first 12 years in the majors before the Braves moved to Atlanta. It was there that Aaron broke Ruth’s record for career runs batted in. And it was there he ended it with his legendary total of 755 home runs. To this day, that’s a more recognizable number than the 762 homers Barry Bonds hit. Bonds’ record is tainted. Aaron’s never will be.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)

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