On July 20, 1976, Dick Arndt got up in the morning and shuffled off to his job as a vocational rehabilitation counselor. Once his day shift ended, Dick headed to his part-time gig as the Brewers’ groundskeeper at Milwaukee County Stadium, where he was in charge of opening and closing the gate for the bullpen cart. This, however, would be no ordinary day for Arndt.
The sparse crowd of 10,134 that night — about a fifth of capacity — was there to see the Angels take on the lowly Brewers, part of the draw being 42-year-old Hank Aaron during his farewell season. In the seventh inning, Arndt was sitting in the left-field stands keeping a lookout for any signals that a pitching change was to be made. With the Brewers ahead 2-1, George Scott hit a two-run home run, increasing the Milwaukee lead. Aaron came up next and drove a Dick Drago offering on a line into the left-field seats, flying about 10 feet over Arndt’s head. The ball settled into an empty row, where Arndt quickly retrieved it.
Head groundskeeper Harry Gill told Dick to turn over the ball because the club had a policy that every home run Aaron hit would be returned to him. The Brewers also had a rule that employees were not allowed to keep baseballs — although this “rule” was not enforced when Arndt and others were allowed to keep baseballs on previous occasions. Regardless, Arndt did not surrender the ball to Gill, wanting an opportunity to personally hand the ball over to Hank Aaron.
After the game ended, Arndt went to the Brewers’ dugout to present the ball to Aaron. There, he was confronted by Brewers equipment manager, Bob Sullivan, who told Dick that Aaron was busy packing for their trip to Kansas City. Sullivan also asked for the ball, offering Arndt a later photo opportunity with Aaron, an autographed baseball, and a bat. Dick decided to ponder the offer however, and he left that night with the baseball. Arndt was fired the next day for having kept Brewers property — he was even docked the five-dollar cost of the baseball in his final paycheck.
At that time, there were still over two months left in the season and no one expected that this was to be Aaron’s final home run: historic No. 755. Aaron had 64 more at-bats in 1976 but failed to connect for another homer.
Arndt later moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico where he worked as a furniture salesman and a part-time groundskeeper for the Triple-A Albuquerque Dukes. He housed his souvenir in a safety deposit box. In 1994, Arndt took the historic baseball to Phoenix, where Aaron autographed it at a baseball card show, the significance of the ball having not been disclosed to the Home Run King.
Over the years, Arndt had periodic contact from Aaron’s representatives, and others, seeking to purchase the ball, but he was never given an acceptable offer. Dick finally decided to part with the ball in 1999, selling it at auction to Andrew Knuth, a Connecticut investment manager, for $650,000. From the net proceeds, Arndt generously donated $155,000 to Hank Aarons’ Chasing the Dream Foundation.
Milwaukee County Stadium was razed in 2001 and replaced with a Little League field and parking lot for adjacent Miller Park. In that parking lot is a brass plaque marking the landing spot for Hank Aaron’s final home run. And for Dick Arndt, it was the exact spot where his life changed forever.
Notes, Los Angeles Times, July 24, 1976.
“Banking on Aaron’s 755th Homer,” Bob Larkin, Albuquerque Journal, August 8, 1987.
“There was a big catch holding onto No. 755,” Jerry Crowe, Los Angeles Times, July 2, 2007.
“Owner of Hank Aaron’s final home run ball braces for new record,” http://www.espn.com, July 25, 2007.
JOHN RACANELLI is a Chicago lawyer with an insatiable interest in baseball-related litigation. When not rooting for his beloved Cubs (or working), he is probably reading a baseball book or blog, planning his next baseball trip, or enjoying downtime with his wife and family. He is probably the world’s foremost photographer of triple peanuts found at ballgames and likes to think he has one of the most complete collections of vintage handheld electronic baseball games known to exist. John is a member of the Emil Rothe (Chicago) SABR Chapter. Check out his corner of the internet at Baseball Law Reporter.