Former Valley sports editor’s book honors Hank Aaron’s legacy and his record-breaking home run

Published 10:48 am Saturday, April 6, 2024

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Baseball is full of history, both good and bad moments, but few players have ever impacted the game or the country the way Hank Aaron did. On April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run and broke the record that had been held by Babe Ruth. 

The moment impacted baseball and several aspects of sports and politics. A young sports editor at the Valley Times, Randy Cox, was one of those in attendance to experience the history and now he has released a book recounting the historic moment and everything that surrounded Aaron’s massive swing. 

Cox was just 24 at the time when he was able to get press passes and photograph the historic night in 1974. Now Cox’s book “715 at 50”, recounts that night and parts of Hank Aaron’s life. 

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Cox was an avid Braves fan leading up to that moment, and being at that game was the experience of a lifetime. 

“It was real exciting for me. I was 24 years old. I had only been working as the sports editor for the Valley Times for about a year,” Cox said. “I didn’t mind driving the 90 miles from Lanett to Atlanta. It was an exciting night. Everybody was hoping that was going to be the night. We were able to get press passes pretty easily back then. 

“I took pictures of every swing because you didn’t know. Luckily he hit it on the first time he swung. It was a great feeling, and going on the field and talking to him was extremely exciting. It was unimaginable.” 

Several books, videos and articles have recounted Aaron’s record-breaking swing, but Cox wanted to take his book a step further. 

The book includes several photographs taken by Cox during the game, but Cox also used the book to inform readers about who Aaron was as a person. Aaron was a phenomenal player, but he was also much more. Aaron became an executive after his playing days, and his work as a philanthropist and humanitarian is often understated. 

“Hank Aaron was more than just a great baseball player,” Cox said. “He was a great baseball player, but he also was a great humanitarian, philanthropist and just did a lot of good things after he retired… That’s what we tried to show in the last couple of chapters.” 

Aaron’s home run came with its share of controversies. Baseball had only been desegregated for 30 years when Aaron began to approach the home run record. Many fans hated the thought of a black man breaking a record held by a white man in a sport that had been predominately white. 

Aaron received several threats and hate prior to breaking the record, but there was also a lot of support for Aaron. Those who chose to hate Aaron ended up being in the minority as most were excited about the change and the moment that Aaron brought to the MLB. 

“Most of it was positive, Hank Aaron did get some hate mail that was really vial,” Cox said. “According to my sources, that was just a small portion. Most of the mail that he got was very supportive and just added to his legacy… It changed baseball and let people look at it from a new perspective.” 

Cox has a unique perspective about Aaron’s 715th home run, and there are also several other unique perspectives in the book. Cox conducted interviews with Ron Reed, the winning pitcher that night, Buzz Capra, the pitcher who got the save that night, Bob Hope and several others. 

There is a whole chapter dedicated to Bob Hope’s perspective. Hope served as the personal relations director at the time and was very close to Aaron. 

“We did a whole chapter on him,” Cox said. “He was Hank Aaron’s best friend and was very close with him… Bob was one of the two regular Paul bearers at Aaron’s funeral, the other one was Dusty Baker. He had a lot of good insight into what Hank felt about things and some of the background of the night itself.” 

Another unique aspect of the book is the chapters that lay out the day of Aaron’s 714th home run and 715th home run. 

The Atlanta Braves will honor Aaron on Monday night for the 50th anniversary of his record-breaking home run. Cox will be there along with several others who were in attendance for the 715th home run to experience one more piece of history. “715 at 50” can be purchased on Summer Game Books’ website as well as at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.