'I was there' Video of Hank Aaron's Record-Breaking Homer Surfaces After 50 Years

Charlie Russo had an unbelievable view of Hank Aaron's record-breaking 715th home run. Fifty years later, he's ready to share it with the world.

The 81-year-old Russo is releasing his long-private video of the moment Aaron broke Babe Ruth's record on April 8, 1974, which he captured after surreptitiously following Aaron's family onto the field at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. He was right there celebrating at home plate with Aaron, his family and teammates -- including Dusty Baker, who was on deck for the Atlanta Braves when Aaron connected.

"Was that guy filming?" Baker asked when told about the video made available to The Associated Press by Russo and his family. "Come on! I've never seen that!"

Russo's video shows Aaron -- standing just feet away -- raising his right arm and smiling to the cheering crowd.

Russo and his uncle, Joseph Mathews, obtained the coveted tickets before making the drive from Savannah. The game was a sellout, with a crowd of 53,775. Russo recalls that finding the tickets was just the start of a charmed day.

Russo was filming from seats behind the third-base dugout when Aaron's drive cleared the wall in left-center in his second at-bat. He then walked closer to where he had seen Aaron's family and entertainers Sammy Davis Jr. and Pearl Bailey seated. When Aaron's mother, father and others made their way toward the field, Russo followed.

"They open the gate and they go, 'Miami, Florida', so I go in the field, too," Russo said. "I mean, it's just like 'OK, I'm part of the family.'"

Russo's shots -- filmed with an 8 mm camera -- show him getting closer and closer to Aaron, until suddenly Aaron is grinning inches away from his lens. He also got a close-up moment with Davis, who had promised $25,000 to whoever caught the home run. Footage from other cameras shows Russo, in a brown leather jacket, standing directly behind Aaron while the Hall of Famer waved to someone in the stands.

It was remarkable access given the security concerns around Aaron at the time. Aaron received numerous death threats as he approached Ruth's record, the target of racism as a Black man set to pass a white player whose mark was set while the sport was segregated. Despite extra security, Russo -- who is white -- said he was never questioned.

"Nobody says anything," he said. "Well, all the attention is on Aaron."

Former Braves media relations director Bob Hope says a popular rumor was that police snipers were in place atop the stadium due to security concerns. Hope says that wasn't true, but when told about Russo's story, he acknowledged security should have been more stringent.

"I mean, the two kids run around the bases," Hope said. "Oh my gosh, if there were snipers, they would have gotten them for sure."

While filming, Russo looked down to see the rosin bag and weighted donut used by Braves hitters in the on-deck circle. Russo reached down and placed the items in his jacket.

"I was just down there and, you know, I think everything just sort of fell into place," Russo said. "OK, this is the rosin bag and a donut. Oh, my Lord. And I put them in my pocket."

Aaron visited Savannah a few months later and gave Russo a signature, which was placed in a frame with the rosin bag, donut and Sports Illustrated cover showing the record homer. Russo now wants to pass along the rosin bag and donut, perhaps for auction.

Russo said Aaron was not upset to learn Russo had the items from the on-deck circle.

"He was nice as he could be," Russo said. "Came in and autographed them. ... I mean, his demeanor is just 'Oh, man, that's beautiful.' And, I mean, he's fine. And he signed them, 'Best wishes, Hank Aaron.'"

Aaron finished his Hall of Fame career with 755 homers, a record broken by Barry Bonds in 2007.

The Braves plan to celebrate the 50th anniversary at Truist Park next week. Baker, who retired as Houston Astros manager after last season, plans to attend, along with Tom House, the relief pitcher who caught the homer in the Braves bullpen. Baker and Hope were the only non-family pallbearers at Aaron's funeral following his death at 86 in 2021.

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