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Hank Aaron - Baseball Legend

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An Introduction to the Legends of Baseball | Hank Aaron | Yogi Berra | Ty Cobb | Joe DiMaggio
Lou Gehrig | Rogers Hornsby | Mickey Mantle | Willie Mays | Stan Musial | Cal Ripken Jr
Jackie Robinson | Pete Rose | Babe Ruth | Ted Williams | Cy Young | The Baseball Hall of Fame

The home run wouldn't have really meant that much to me if we hadn't won the game.
- Hank Aaron, April 8, 1974

Atlanta Stadium, April 8, 1974:- The Los Angeles Dodgers and a full house of 53,775 fans were present to witness one of Baseball's greatest moments. Hank Aaron, by virtue of his 714th career home run five days earlier at Cincinnati, was lying level with baseball legend 'Babe' Ruth at the top of the all-time home run list.

The Dodger's pitcher, Al Downing, walked Aaron in his first at bat in the second inning. In the fourth inning, with a runner on first base, no outs and the Dodgers leading, 3-1, Downing again faced Aaron. Following a pitch in the dirt, the second ball was a high fastball. At 9:07 pm, with his first full swing of the evening, Aaron sent the specially marked ball into the Braves bullpen, approximately 400 feet from home plate.

The crowd went wild, fireworks exploded over the stadium and when Aaron reached home plate he was mobbed by teammates, relatives, friends and well-wishers.

After the celebrations died down Aaron played out the entire game - with the Braves triumphing, 7-4.

Early Life

Henry Louis Aaron was born 5 February, 1934, in a part of Mobile, Alatala USA, called Down The Bay, a poor area of town populated mostly by coloured families. The family later moved to a better area of Mobile called Toulminville, where he was brought up and attended school. As a youngster Aaron was never in trouble - because he was constantly playing baseball. Hank began to play with the semi-pro Mobile Black Bears for $10 a game

In 1952, he quit high school and joined the Negro American League1 playing for the Indianapolis Clowns. After playing a few months there as a stop gap2, his contract was bought by the Boston Braves3 of the National League. He was assigned to minor-league teams, first at Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where he was the Northern League's Rookie of the Year, then at Jacksonville, Florida he was voted the league's MVP.

Up to the Majors

During the Brave's4 spring training for 1954, veteran outfielder Bobby Thomson suffered a broken ankle and Aaron won his place, taking over as the regular left fielder. On April 13, Aaron made his major league debut and went 0-for-5 against the Reds in Cincinnati. He hit his first Major League home run on April 23, 1954 and added another 12 in his 122 games before a broken ankle ended his season in early September.

In the following season, Aaron was moved to right field, where he played for most of his career, winning three Gold Gloves. 1955 also saw the first of a record-tying 24 All-Star Games for Aaron - Only Willie Mays and Stan Musial appeared in as many All-Star Games. As a player he was considered hard working, humble and shy, and for many years attracted relatively little attention outside of his home area. Despite the figures he was producing, Aaron was often overlooked as one of the game's greats until he began to close in on the home run record.

1957 was a landmark year for Aaron, he was moved from second in the batting order to fourth, behind Eddie Mathews instead of in front of him5), and he switched from a 36-ounce bat to a 34-ounce model. The changes suited him - he led the league with 44 home runs and a career best of 132 RBI.

A two-run homer in the 11th inning of a game in late September clinched the Braves' first pennant in Milwaukee and Aaron was carried off the field by his teammates. Milwaukee followed by gaining their only World Series by defeating the NY Yankees. Aaron doing his part by hitting .393 with three home runs and seven RBI. Demonstrating the benefits of being part of a winning team, Aaron won his only MVP award that year.

With 30 home runs and 95 RBI, Aaron led Milwaukee to another pennant in the following season but this time the Braves lost a seven-game Series to the Yankees.

The Home-Run Chase

In 1957 Aaron was paid $30,000 for his appearance on the television show 'Home Run Derby'. This was almost equal to his annual salary, and it led him to change his style and swing for more big hits - as he said, I noticed that they never had a show called 'Singles Derby'.

From then on the home-runs came steadily.

  • 200 - July 1960.
  • 300 - April 1963. (The Braves had now moved the franchise to Atlanta).
  • 400 - April 1966.
  • 500 - July 1968.
  • 600 - April 1971.
  • 649 - June 1972, passing Willie Mays to move into 2nd place behind Ruth.
  • 700 - July 1973.

As the record drew ever nearer the media attention increased and so did the fanmail, unfortunately a large proportion of it consisted of offensive hatemail and death threats from racist bigots who were offended that a coloured player looked set to take baseball's most prized title from a white hero.

Even long after taking the title, Aaron kept the letters - 'I read the letters,' he said, 'because they remind me not to be surprised or hurt. They remind me what people are really like.'

The End of a Great Career

Soon after the 1974 season was over, the Braves traded the 41 year old Aaron to Milwaukee, where he was able to take advantage of the designated hitter rule to extend his career. In his first game there, 48,160 fans braved 37° weather to welcome him home. He hit 22 more home runs in two seasons for the Brewers to take his total to 755.

On 8 October, 1976, Hank Aaron singled in his last Major League at-bat and drove in his 2,297th run.

Apart from the Home run record Aaron's career may be considered to have been comparatively unspectacular but it was remarkably consistent. He was never a very aggressive baserunner and he watched his weight throughout his career, thus his legs suffered less wear and tear than others. He was lucky enough never to be hurt badly enough to be out of the lineup for any extended period of time.

He had an understated style that could make him look lazy. He wasn't, he was just not an excitable sort of person. Pitcher Robin Roberts once remarked that, 'Aaron could fall asleep between pitches and still wake up in time to hit the next one'.

After his retirement from playing, Aaron joined the Atlanta management as a vice president.

In 1982 Hank Aaron was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Aaron was only nine votes short of becoming the first ever unanimous selection, and his 97.8 election percentage was 2nd only to Ty Cobb's 98.2 percent in the inaugural 1936 election.

The Hank Aaron Award was introduced in 1999 to mark the 25th anniversary of his breaking Babe Ruth's all-time home run record. It is given to the best overall hitter in each league. The first major award to be introduced in more than thirty years, it is also the first to be named after a former player still living at the time the award was inaugurated.

Career Statistics and Records

GamesAt-BatsHitsDoublesTriplesHome RunsRunsRBIBatting Average
 3,298 12,3643,771    624    98     7552,1742,297       .305

NL MVP: 1957. Gold Glove award: 1958, 59, 60. NL batting champion: 1956, 59. NL home run champion: 1957, 63, 66, 67. NL RBI leader: 1957, 60, 63, 66. NL total bases leader: 1956, 57, 59, 60, 61, 63, 67, 69. NL slugging percentage leader: 1959, 63, 71. NL runs scored leader: 1957, 63, 67. NL hits leader: 1956, 59. NL doubles leader: 1955, 56, 61, 65. Three home runs in one game: June 21, 1959. All-time home run leader: 755. All-time games played: 3,298. All-time at-bats leader: 12,364. All-time RBI leader: 2,297. All-time total bases leader: 6,856. All-time extra-base hits leader: 1,477.

Aaron and his brother Tommy rank first in home runs by siblings (768); he combined with Eddie Mathews to hit most home runs as teammates (863); he hit 385 in home parks and 370 on the road; he hit 185 home runs in Milwaukee County Stadium as a Brave and 10 as a Brewer; he hit 190 home runs in Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium; he hit exactly 400 solo home runs (53%); 242 two-run home runs (32%); 97 three-run home runs (13%); 16 grand slams; he hit two home runs in a game 61 times; he hit three home runs in a game once; he hit 14 extra-inning home runs; three pinch-hit home runs; he hit 534 home runs off right-handed pitchers (71%) and 221 home runs off left-handed pitchers (29%); he hit home runs off 310 pitchers in 32 ballparks; he hit three home runs in the World Series and three more in the 1969 National League Championship Series; he hit two All-Star game home runs. And in 1967 he hit his one and only inside-the-park home run.

1Aaron was the last Negro league player to also play in the major leagues.2The Clowns won the 1952 Negro League World Series.3The New York Giants also put in a bid for Aaron. He chose the Braves, thinking he'd have a better chance to make the team.4The franchise had moved by then and were now the Milwaukee Braves5He and Mathews are the only players to hit 400 homers each as teammates (442 for Aaron, 421 for Mathews).

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