Feb 29, 1972: Hank Aaron Record-Breaking Deal

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On February 29, 1972, Hank Aaron signs a three-year deal with the Atlanta Braves that pays him $200,000 per year, making him the highest-paid player in Major League Baseball at the time. Two years later, Aaron became baseball’s home run king when he broke Babe Ruth’s long-standing record.

Aaron began his professional baseball career in 1952 in the Negro League and joined the Milwaukee Braves of the Major League in 1954, eight years after Jackie Robinson had integrated baseball. Aaron was the last Negro League player to compete in the majors. He quickly established himself as an important player for the Braves and won the National League batting title in 1956. The following season, he took home the league’s MVP award and helped the Braves beat Mickey Mantle and the heavily favored New York Yankees in the World Series. In 1959, Aaron won his second league batting title.

Season after season, Aaron turned in strong batting performances. “Hammerin’ Hank” hit .300 or higher for 14 seasons and slugged at least 40 homers in eight separate seasons. In May 1970, he became the first player in baseball to record 500 homers and 3,000 hits. The achievement Aaron is best known for, though, is breaking Babe Ruth’s record of 714 career home runs, which he did on April 8, 1974, at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, when he hit his 715th home run in the fourth inning of a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Aaron played for the Milwaukee Braves from 1954 to 1965 and then moved with the team to Atlanta in 1966. On February 29, 1972, the Atlanta Braves signed Aaron to a three-year, $200,000 per year contract that made him baseball’s best-paid player. By comparison, Babe Ruth earned an annual salary of $70,000 from the New York Yankees in 1927. In 1979, Nolan Ryan received a $1 million paycheck from the Houston Astros and in 1981 the Yankees paid Dave Winfield a yearly salary of $2 million. In 2007, the highest-paid player in the Majors was Alex Rodriquez of the New York Yankees, who earned $27.7 million. In November 1974, the Braves traded Aaron to the Milwaukee Brewers, where he spent the final two seasons of his career. Aaron retired from baseball in 1976 with 755 career home runs, a record that stood until August 7, 2007, when it was broken by Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants.

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