Hank Aaron hammering his 715th round-tripper to surpass Babe Ruth and claim the career home run record on the night of April 8, 1974, stands as one of the most thrilling sports achievements of the 20th century. Aaron, after all, not only broke baseball’s most hallowed milestone, but he did it under unimaginable pressure — receiving vicious, racist hate mail and even death threats for months leading up to the start of the 1974 season.
Some folks, it seemed, just couldn’t stand the idea of a black man — even one as talented, dignified, and downright awe-inspiring as Henry Aaron — occupying such a titanic place in the baseball firmament.
But own it he did, and own it he still does: as LIFE.com has already pointed out elsewhere, for most baseball fans, Aaron remains the all-time home run king, Barry Bonds’ stats notwithstanding.
Here, on the 40th anniversary of Aaron’s 715th home run, LIFE.com pays tribute with a trippy — and weirdly riveting — multiple-exposure picture of the moment, from the perfect swing, to Aaron rounding the bases, to his reception at the Braves’ dugout. In one artfully conceived and masterfully executed tableau, LIFE photographers Henry Groskinsky and Ralph Morse managed to capture every element of the dramatic scene, as it unfolded in both time and space.
And like Mr. Aaron’s towering achievement — albeit on an admittedly smaller scale — that’s something to cheer about.