As admirers around the world mourn the death of baseball legend Hank “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron at age 86 today, many sports fans may find themselves wondering what happened to the ball that catapulted Aaron into the history books on July 20, 1976. But let’s back things up just a bit.
Aaron joined Major League Baseball team the Milwaukee Braves in 1954. According to Biography, it was 20 years later, after the Braves had relocated to Atlanta in 1966 (per the MLB website) that he hit his 715th home run, shattering Babe Ruth’s record of 714, to the delight of many long-suffering Boston Red Sox fans, as Baseball Reference tells it. After Aaron’s 20th season with the Braves was over, he moved back to Milwaukee to play for the Brewers.
As ESPN reported, two years later, in 1976, at Milwaukee’s County Stadium, Aaron broke yet another home run record, hitting his 755th and final career home run, against relief pitcher Dick Drago of the then-California Angels, in the bottom of the seventh inning, clinching the Brewers’ 6-2 win. It was a record that would stand for 31 years, until Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants hit his 756th home run in 2007. (ESPN shares this fun fact: Bonds’s father, Bobby, batted third for the Angels the day that Aaron hit his record.)
History and bad blood
According to the Los Angeles Times, Milwaukee Brewers groundskeeper and baseball fan Richard Arndt was the lucky grabber of Aaron’s historic hit (though he had no idea it was historic at the time). Arndt claims that he intended to hand the ball back to Aaron after the game when he was summoned to the dugouts. But when he asked to see Aaron, he was told by an equipment manager that Aaron was busy and couldn’t meet with him. The equipment manager allegedly offered Arndt a previously-autographed ball, bat, and a photo of Aaron, but Arndt declined, and kept his ball. The next day, the Brewers’ management fired him and docked his final paycheck. “I’m sure everybody would have handled this much more diplomatically had it been Sept. 30 instead of July 20,” Arndt said, “but everybody assumed he would hit more home runs. Nobody thought that would be his last home run.”
After several tries to get Aaron to sign his ball and Aaron refusing, the Los Angeles Times reported that Arndt wound up keeping the ball in a safe deposit box in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he lived most of his adult life, for the better part of the next 22 years. One day in 1994, Arndt brought the ball to a show where Aaron was signing autographs; Aaron signed the ball, not realizing its significance, and then back to the box the ball went. This unfortunately but understandably caused bad blood on Aaron’s side, as he felt he had been duped.
'A very safe place'
Over time, Arndt, who became a social worker, would turn down several offers for the autographed ball, until 1999, when he brought it to an auction where, according to ESPN, he sold it for $652,000 to 68-year-old Weston, Connecticut resident and wealth asset manager Andrew Knuth. Arndt received $461,700 from the sale, and fulfilled a promise to Aaron, donating $155,800 to the Chasing the Dream Foundation in Atlanta, which helps underprivileged children. Once the tax bills were paid, he used the money to help his children and his church, and made some investments. “We were able to do some good things with it,” he told the LA Times.
When Knuth returned home from that auction — again, via ESPN – he got a call from Aaron. “We talked about the ball and what had gone on,” Knuth said. “He was very interested in the ball.” Knuth ended up getting invited to Aaron’s 65th birthday party, where he says he met former President Clinton. “I don’t travel too often in those circles,” he said. Knuth added that he keeps the ball “in a very safe place.”
“It’s obviously a unique piece of history I own,” Knuth said. “I think it will be in my family for a long period of time.”
Since 2008, Knuth and Hank Aaron’s 755 ball seem to be keeping a low profile.
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