July 20, 1976: Hank Aaron hits his 755th and final career home run

This article was written by Norm King

It seems appropriate somehow that Henry Aaron’s last moonshot came on the anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind.

No one knew it at the time, but the 10,134 fans at County Stadium who saw Aaron’s mighty swing propel a ball over the fence for the 755th time witnessed a historic occasion in an otherwise meaningless game between two bad teams that were last in their divisions. (The Brewers finished last the American League East with a 66-95 record while the Angels ended up tied for fourth place in the American League West with a 76-86 mark.)  For their money they saw a game that was tight until the seventh, when some power hitting carried Milwaukee and starting pitcher Jerry Augustine to a win.

Augustine went into the game with a 2-7 record and a 3.89 ERA. He had lost his previous start, 5-2 to the Chicago White Sox, but was unlucky; none of the three runs he gave up in four innings of work were earned. The three runs scored on a pair of bases-loaded singles following second baseman Tim Johnson’s error  on what would have been the third out of the inning.

Augustine’s mound opponent on the 20th was Gary Ross, who went into the game with a 6-11 record, having given up four earned runs in 6⅔ innings in his previous start, a 4-0 loss to the Baltimore Orioles. Ross had a Twilight Zone season in 1976, as he ended up with a dreadful 8-16 record, yet was 10th best in the league with a 3.00 ERA.

The Brewers got off to a quick lead in the bottom of the first when leadoff hitter Von Joshua tripled to left field and scored on a sacrifice fly by Don Money. Milwaukee didn’t score any more in that inning, nor did the Brewers score in the second or third despite having two runners on in both frames.

Augustine tried to hold the fort as his mates squandered their early opportunities. He faced the minimum nine batters through three innings, but couldn’t keep his finger in the dike indefinitely and allowed the Angels to tie the game in the fourth. Leadoff hitter Dave Collins singled to center, and moved to second when Augustine balked. Mario Guerrero sacrificed Collins to third and then Bobby Bonds drove him home with a sacrifice fly.

The score was tied, 1-1, but Milwaukee regained the lead in the bottom of the inning. The Brewers loaded the bases on Darrell Porter’s double to right, a walk to Mike Hegan, and a two-out infield single by Johnson. Ross added to Angels manager Dick Williams’s gray-hair collection by walking Joshua, bringing Porter home. Williams, never the most patient of managers, decided Ross needed an early shower and brought Dick Drago in to replace him with the Brewers ahead, 2-1. Drago got Money to ground into a fielder’s choice and Milwaukee missed another chance to blow the game wide open.

“We had [Ross] on the ropes three straight innings, but he kept getting out of it,” said Brewers manager Alex Grammas.1

Both pitchers, meanwhile, breezed through the fifth and sixth. Augustine walked two in the top of the seventh but came through unscathed, still protecting that slim one-run lead. His mates decided that enough was enough in the bottom of the seventh, as the Boomer and the Hammer went to work.

A small-ball appetizer preceded the main course of power. Johnson walked, stole second, and advanced to third on catcher Terry Humphrey’s throwing error. One out later, Money hit his second sacrifice fly of the day to make the score 3-1. Up came George “Boomer” Scott.

Drago found himself in trouble by getting behind Scott 3-and-0; even though the bases were empty, he didn’t want to walk Scott with Aaron due up next. Actually it was the fourth pitch that was the problem; Scott hit it so hard that he just stood at home plate admiring the flight of the ball on its one-way trip to the left-field bleachers before breaking into his home-run trot.

Aaron was the next batter. Since it wasn’t his final at-bat in the majors, as it was when Ted Williams hit his last home run, there was no sense of drama as Aaron blasted a Drago hanging slider over the left-field wall to make the score 5-1 for Milwaukee.

Milwaukee extended the lead in the eighth inning by going back to the Baseball 101 approach. Yount singled, moved to second on a Johnson sacrifice, and scored on a single by Gorman Thomas. California’s Bill Melton homered in the top of the ninth to complete the scoring as the Brewers won, 6-2.

Aaron had 64 more at-bats that season but never homered again. His final home-run ball ended up having an interesting history. Richard Arndt, a part-time groundskeeper at County Stadium, caught the ball and tried to return it to Aaron after the game but was told Aaron was unavailable to see him. The Brewers fired Arndt the day after Aaron hit the homer for stealing team property (a.k.a. the ball) and deducted $5.00  — the price of the ball — from his final paycheck.

 As the season wore on, Aaron tried to get the ball back from Arndt, offering him a television set (Aaron was a spokesman for Magnavox) as well as signed memorabilia. Arndt held on to the ball and put it in a safety deposit box after moving to Albuquerque, New Mexico. In 1994 he made a move that really took some chutzpah.

“Arndt pulled a fast one over on Aaron a few years back, taking the ball to an autograph show in Phoenix at which Aaron was appearing,” wrote Tom Haudricourt in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Without realizing the significance of the ball he held in his hands, Aaron autographed it and handed it back to Arndt.”2

Finally, as the home-run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa revived interest in baseball in 1999, Arndt sold the ball at auction for $625,000, and donated 25 percent of the proceeds to Aaron’s Chasing the Dream Foundation, which gives academic scholarships to underprivileged youth. Andrew J. Knuth, a portfolio manager from Connecticut, purchased the ball.

"Uncle Sam got a good chunk, the State of New Mexico got a good chunk, I gave some to our church and my wife and I gave some money to our children," said Arndt, a social worker, who also invested part of the windfall. “We were able to do some good things with it.”3

The Brewers began the process of commemorating the home run in 2007. And a process it was, because County Stadium was gone by then, so somebody had to find out exactly where the ball had landed. For that detective work, the Brewers called upon Professor Alan J. Horowitz, chair of the civil engineering and mechanics department of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM).

“Through the assistance of several students from UWM’s Chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the team calculated GPS measurements, reviewed surveys of County Stadium, studied aerial photos of Miller Park and County Stadium and closely examined the home run video to determine the exact location where the ball landed,” said a Brewers press release.4

After all their work was completed, Horowitz and his team determined that the ball traveled 363 feet and landed in what is now the Miller Park parking lot. A plaque stands at the spot.

 

This article appears in "From the Braves to the Brewers: Great Games and Exciting History at Milwaukee’s County Stadium" (SABR, 2016), edited by Gregory H. Wolf. To read more stories from this book at the SABR Games Project, click here.

 

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

Milwaukee.Brewers.mlb.com

 

Notes

1 Tom Flaherty, “Augustine’s Victory Not Complete, but a Victory,” Milwaukee Journal, July 21, 1976.

2 Tom Haudricourt, “Few saw Aaron’s final homer,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 28, 1999.

3 Jerry Crowe, “There was a big catch holding on to No. 755,” Los Angeles Times, July 2, 2007.

4 Milwaukee Brewers Press Release, “Brewers unveil plaque to memorialize the final home run of Hank Aaron’s career, #755,” issued June 7, 2007.