Photographer Ron Sherman G’71 captured an iconic moment in baseball history on April 8, 1974, when Major League Baseball player Hank Aaron hit his 715th homerun at Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium, beating Babe Ruth’s all-time record.
The photo, which shows Aaron being congratulated by two fans who rushed the field as he rounded the bases, was distributed the next day by United Press International (UPI), the news wire service that sent Sherman on the assignment.
The photo went around the world without Sherman’s name on it; UPI only used his initials for the caption. Forty-four years later, Sherman received a tip from a friend who saw his uncredited photo hanging inside the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York.
“I said, ‘That’s interesting,’” Sherman says about his first reaction to the news. “And then he sent me [a picture of the photo], and I knew it was mine.”
Sherman, an alumnus of Newhouse’s graduate photography program, says he was one of hundreds of photographers covering the Atlanta Braves’ season opener that night. He positioned himself in a field-level photo box by third base and kept his camera trained on Aaron, who was on the brink of breaking Babe Ruth’s homerun record, hoping to catch the history-making swing.
But the classic moment Sherman caught was unexpected. Two young men—Britt Gaston and Cliff Courtenay—rushed the field to pat Aaron on the back as he came around second base, and Sherman snapped the famous photo, one out of 544 images he took that evening.
A few days later, UPI’s photo director called him to ask for the negative; they wanted to borrow it to make a large print for their office in New York. Sherman sent the negative and moved on to other assignments.
Throughout his career, Sherman has worked for national magazines such as Time, Life, Newsweek, Forbes, and Sports Illustrated. He has taken photographs of Coretta Scott King with her family at Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations, and former President Jimmy Carter during his campaign for presidency.
After seeing Hank Aaron in a magazine in 1996, Sherman was again reminded of his photo and decided to track it down. During his search, he discovered that Bettman Archive had acquired the UPI collection in 1984, and that Corbis Images had purchased Bettman in 1995. Sherman eventually got in touch with an archivist from Corbis Images, negotiated to have the negative returned to him and started researching to be sure his image was truly unique.
“I went to magazines like Time, Life and Newsweek, seeing if there was a similar photo, but I couldn’t find it anywhere,” says Sherman. “There were a couple [shots] from the stands, but [they] didn’t have the impact my photo had.”
Sherman says the image went unattributed for years because it was credited to UPI, Bettman or Corbis. But in October of 2018, 44 years after he shot the image, he finally received attribution after talking to the Baseball Hall of Fame’s photo archivist. In exchange for a plaque with his name on it, Sherman provided high-resolution scans of the photo to be reprinted and hung at the museum, replacing their smaller, uncredited copy.
“That’s all I wanted,” Sherman says. “It was just fun to see it published again.”
Today, Sherman continues to work on building his photo archive, which now features more than 500,000 images spanning his 50 years as a photographer. He has photographs on display at numerous museums, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. Sherman is also sifting through his collection of images from the 1960s and 1970s, which he’ll continue to post on his website.
And he’ll never forget about his Hank Aaron photo again.
“Just having my name on it was important for me and my archive. It’s nice to know word got out, and I’m very happy,” he says. “My photojournalism documentary career has always been [about] telling the story as best as I can.”
Micah Castelo is a graduate magazine, newspaper and online journalism major at the Newhouse School.