Historic Baseball

Historic Baseball

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Hank Aaron

 

Hank Aaron

Henry Louis Aaron
Nickname: Hammerin’ Hank
Born: Feb. 5, 1934 in Mobile, Ala. 
Debut: April 13, 1954 | Pos: OF
Ht: 6′ | Wt: 180 | B: R | T: R

 

YRGABRHHRRBISBBA
233,29812,3642,1743,7717552,297240.305

>> Visit the Hank Aaron biography on Baseball Almanac for complete statistics.


Baseball’s All-Time Home-Run King

On July 9, 2002, Hank Aaron, baseball’s home run king, received the Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush to honor the baseball star’s achievements despite poverty and racism.

Look through a list of players, a book of stats, the baseball encyclopedia and one thing becomes clear. Appropriately, Hank Aaron is the first player that you are going to see. 

In many other aspects of baseball, he’s also first or near the top of the list:

  • Home Runs: 1st with 755
  • RBIs: 1st with 2,297
  • Total bases: 1st with 6,856
  • Extra Base hits: 1st with 1,477
  • At-Bats: 2nd with 12,364
  • Runs Scored: Tied with Babe Ruth for 3rd with 2,174
  • Hits: 3rd with 3,771
  • Games: 3rd with 3.298

Other players drew more attention with flashy play, but Aaron’s calling card was consistency. From 1954 to 1976, Aaron hit 20 or more HRs in 20 seasons and hit 30 or more in 15 seasons. Those two feats have never been equaled.

Aaron entered the world on Feb. 5, 1934 in a poor section of Mobile, Ala. That year, Babe Ruth was playing his last games in a Yankees uniform. 

Aaron begin to develop his skills for the game by playing softball in the leagues in Mobile. He attracted attention for his hitting — despite the fact he was a cross-handed hitter — and he was signed to player shortstop with the semi-pro Mobile Black Bears.

The Indianapolis Clowns of the fading Negro Leagues brought a barnstorming tour to Mobile and faced off in a game against the Black Bears. The Clowns’ traveling secretary told Aaron that he could expect a contract from Indianapolis.

1952

The contract from the Clowns arrived and Aaron found himself as a player in the Negro Leagues and he quickly established himself by hitting .400. The owner of the Clowns sent a letter to Syd Pollack, minor league director for the Boston Braves, and told him about Aaron’s ability. The letter said, “Incidentally, I’ve got an 18-year-old shortstop batting fourth on my club and hitting over .400 by the name of Henry Aaron.”

The Braves quickly moved to get an option on Aaron, beating out the New York Giants in the process. For a mere $50 a month more than the Giants had offered, the Braves locked up a player who would give the team tremendous offense in the future. He left the Clowns to join  Class C Eau Claire and hit .336 with 9 home runs and 61 RBIs. Despite playing in just  87 games of the league’s season, Aaron was named its Rookie of the Year. 

1953

Aaron was moved to Jacksonville and became one of the first five black players to join the South Atlantic (Sally) League.  Aaron delivered a dominating performance, leading the league in runs (115), hits (208), RBI (125) and batting average (.362). The display of offense captured the league’s MVP honor.

1954

Aaron’s performance in Jacksonville earned him a shot at the Major League club and he joined the Braves in spring training.  Aaron was battling for a spot on the roster and many  thought he would be heading back to the minors. In his first two seasons in the minor leagues, Aaron had played in the infield and committed a combined 71 errors. Team officials didn’t think he was ready to play an infield position.

Bobby Thompson, who the Braves had acquired to provide some batting support for Eddie Mathews, broke his ankle sliding into a base during a spring training game and, with the opening on the roster, Aaron, just 20 years old, found himself the starting right fielder.

On April 23, he began his journey that would eventually eclipse the
accomplishments of Ruth. In a game against St. Louis, Aaron hit his first MLB home run at the expense of Cards’ pitcher Vic Raschl. He played in 122 games for the Braves and hit .280 with 13 HRs and 69 RBIs. His season was cut short in September when Aaron broke his ankle sliding into a base. This was the only major injury that Aaron would suffer in his career. 

1955

Aaron switched  from leftfield to rightfield, the position he would play for the rest of his career, and provided 27 home runs and 106 RBIs. He also hit .314. Aaron tied teammate Johnny Logan for the NL lead in doubles with 37. 

1956

Aaron was the league batting champion with a .328 average. He also had 26 home runs. The Braves held the NL lead by 1 game with three games remaining in the season. Milwaukee lost 2 of 3 games and the Dodgers won all three of theirs to claim the pennant. 

1957

The team decided to move Aaron from second to fourth in the batting order (now behind Eddie Mathews) and Aaron decided to change from a 36-ounce to a 34-ounce bat. He ended the season as the NL leader in home runs with 44, RBIs with 132 and runs with 118. He was named the MVP for the National League, beating out Stan Musial by 9 votes. 

In September, Aaron hit a 2-run home run against the Cardinals to seal the Braves’ pennant � the first for the time since its move from Boston to Milwaukee. The Braves capped off the season with a World Series victory over the New York Yankees. In the seven-game series, Aaron led all players with 11 hits, 7 RBI and a .393 average. He also had 3 home runs

1958

Aaron sparked the offense with 30 HRs and 95 RBIs and the Braves won another pennant. The team lost to the New York Yankees in seven games in the World Series. Despite hitting .333, Aaron drove in just 2 runs with no home runs. That season also marked Aaron winning  the first of three consecutive Gold Gloves. 

1959

He hit .355 � a career high � and won the NL batting title. He also leads the league with 223 hits, 400 total bases and a slugging percentage of .636.

1960

 On July 3, Aaron homers off Ron Kline of the Cardinals for the 200th of his career. He leads the league with 126 RBIs and hits .292 with 40 home runs. 

1961

Aaron hits .327 with 34 home runs and 120 RBIs. His 39 doubles led the National League.

1962

He hits 45 home runs with 128 RBIs and a .323 average.

1963

He leads the league in runs scored (121), home runs (44) and RBIs (130). Aaron came close to winning the Triple Crown but finished third in the NL with .319.

1964

He plays in 145 games, hits .328 and adds 24 home runs and 95 RBIs.

1965

In the team’s last year in Milwaukee, the Braves get 32 home runs and 89 RBIs from Aaron.

1966

In his first year in Atlanta, Aaron leads the NL in home runs (44) and led the majors in RBIs (127).  He reached the 400 mark in home runs on April 20 off Bo Belinsky of the Phillies.

1967

He leads the NL in runs (113) and home runs (39).

1968

He hits .287 with 29 home runs and 86 RBIs. His 500th home run came off Mike McCormick of the Giants on July 14.

1969

He hit .300 with 44 home runs and 97 RBIs. In the 1969 Championship Series, Aaron had 3 home runs, 7 RBIs and hit .357.

1970

Aaron has a .298 season with 38 home runs and 118 RBIs. Aaron reached the 3000 hit mark.

1971

He hits .327 with 47 home runs and 118 RBIs. His 600th career home run came on April 27 off the Giants’ Gaylord Perry.

1972

In 129 games, Aaron hits .265 with 34 home runs and 77 RBIs.

1973

Aaron moved closer and closer to Babe Ruth’s career HR record and the racist letters, threats and slurs increased. On July 32, he hit home run No. 700 off Ken Brett of Philadelphia. At the end of the season, he was 39 and found himself with 713 career home runs. 

The threats got so bad that the Atlanta police department assigned a body guard to protect him. Aaron would admit later in life that the letters and threats changed his views and he still keeps those letters as a reminder of how bad people can be.

Aaron had 40 home runs on the season to join teammates Darrell Evans (41) and Dave Johnson (43).

1974

In his first swing, he hit home run against the Reds to tie Babe Ruth with 714. On April 8, before a crowd at Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium on a cold night, Aaron made baseball history. Al Dowling of the Dodgers surrendered Aaron’s 715th Home Run at 9:07 p.m. EST to a national TV audience. 

The historic home run ball went into the left-field bullpen at Fulton County Stadium and was caught by Atlanta pitcher Tom House.

Braves owner Bill Bartholomay wanted Aaron to sit out the opening series at Cincinnati so that Aaron could, hopefully, break the record in Atlanta. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn said that Aaron had to play in the opening series. 

Aaron hit 20 home runs over the course of the season to finish at 733.

Aaron had hoped to have a shot at replacing Eddie Mathews after the manager was fired by the Braves. The team, however, signed Clyde King to a multi-year contract.

Aaron faced off against Japanese home-run legend Sadaharu Oh in a special home run contest in Tokyo. Aaron won 10-9.

1975

Much like the end of Babe Ruth’s career, Aaron’s ended back where his began.  Following the 1974 season, the Braves traded Aaron to Milwaukee for Dave May and minor leaguer Roger Alexander. As a designated hitter, Aaron hit 12 home runs to push his total to 745.

1976

Aaron hit 10 more home runs with the last of his career coming on a pitch from Dick Drago of the Angels. His last at-bat in the majors was tainted with a little controversy. Aaron singled, but he was replaced by pinch runner Jim Gantner who went on to score a run. Had Aaron scored the run, he would have broken his tie with Babe Ruth for career runs scored. His manager said he took Aaron out of the game so he could get one last standing ovation from the fans.

1982

Hank Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame along with Frank Robinson, Travis Jackson and Happy Chandler.

After Baseball

After retiring, Aaron became a vice president and director of player development with the Atlanta Braves. In 1989, he served as Assistant to the Team’s President nd as a Corporate VP of Community Relations with the TV network TBS.

Much of Aaron’s life after baseball was still haunted by the letters and threats he had received for approaching and passing Ruth’s HR record. Baseball eventually honored Aaron by naming its annual award to the best hitters after the home run hitter.


Still Interested?

For a look at Hank Aaron’s career statistics, try these links: