Hank Aaron

  • 25× All-Star selection (1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1959², 1960, 1960², 1961, 1961², 1962, 1962², 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975)
  • World Series champion ()
  • Gold Glove Award winner (1958, 1959, 1960)
  • 1957 NL MVP
  • 1970 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award
  • Atlanta Braves #44 retired
  • Milwaukee Brewers #44 retired
  • Major League Baseball All-Century Team
  • MLB Records:
    • 6,856 total bases
    • 2,297 RBI
    • 1,477 extra-base hits
    • 17 consecutive seasons with 150 or more hits
    Hank Aaron

    Right fielder
    Born: February 5, 1934 (1934-02-05) (age 77)
    Mobile, Alabama
    Batted: Right Threw: Right 
    MLB debut
    April 13, 1954 for the Milwaukee Braves
    Last MLB appearance
    October 3, 1976 for the Milwaukee Brewers
    Career statistics
    Batting average     .305
    Home runs     755
    Hits     3,771
    Runs batted in     2,297
    Career highlights and awards
    Member of the National
    Baseball Hall of Fame
    Induction     1982
    Vote     97.83% (first ballot)

    Henry Louis "Hank" Aaron (born February 5, 1934), nicknamed "Hammer", "Hammerin' Hank", and "Bad Henry", is a retired American baseball player whose Major League Baseball (MLB) career spanned the years 1954 through 1976. Aaron is widely considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time. In 1999, editors at The Sporting News ranked Hank Aaron fifth on their list of "Greatest Baseball Players".

    After playing with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League and in the minor leagues, Aaron started his major league career in 1954. (He is the last Negro league baseball player to have played in the major leagues.)[1] He played 21 seasons with the Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves in the National League, and his last two years (1975–76) with the Milwaukee Brewers in the American League. His most notable achievement was setting the MLB record for most career home runs at 755.

    During his professional career, Aaron performed at a consistently high level for an extended period of time. He hit 24 or more home runs every year from 1955 through 1973, and is the only player to hit 30 or more home runs in a season at least fifteen times.[2] He is one of only four players to have at least seventeen seasons with 150 or more hits.[3] Aaron made the All-Star team every year from 1955 until 1975[4] and won three Rawlings Gold Glove Awards. In 1957, he won the National League Most Valuable Player Award, while that same year, the Braves won the World Series, his one World Series victory during his career.

    Aaron's consistency helped him to establish a number of important hitting records during his 23-year career. Aaron holds the MLB records for the most career runs batted in (2,297) and the most career extra base hits (1,477). Hank Aaron is also in the top five for career hits with 3,771 (third) and runs with 2,174, which is tied for fourth with Babe Ruth. He also is in second place in at-bats (12,364), and in third place in games played (3,298).

    Youth and professional beginnings

    Hank Aaron was born in Mobile, Alabama to Herbert and Estella (Pritchett) Aaron.[5][6] Aaron had seven siblings.[5] Tommie Aaron, one of his brothers, also went on to play Major League Baseball. By the time Aaron retired, he and his brother held the record for most career home runs by a pair of siblings (768). They were also the first siblings to appear in a League Championship Series as teammates.[7]

    While he was born in a section of Mobile referred to as "Down the Bay," he spent most of his youth in Toulminville. Aaron grew up in a poor family,[5] picking cotton on a farm, and to this day people say that strengthened his hands so he could hit more home runs. His family couldn't afford baseball equipment, so he practiced by hitting bottle caps with sticks. He would make his own bats and balls out of materials he found on the streets.[8] Aaron attended Central High School as a freshman and a sophomore, where he played outfield and third base on the baseball team and helped lead his team to the Mobile Negro High School Championship both years.[9][10] During this time, he also excelled in football. His success on the football field led to several football scholarship offers,[11] which he turned down to pursue a career in professional baseball. Although he batted cross-handed (i.e., as a right-handed hitter, with his left hand above his right), Aaron had already established himself as a power hitter.[11] As a result, in 1949, at the age of fifteen, Aaron had his first tryout with a MLB franchise, with the Brooklyn Dodgers; however, he did not make the team.[12] After this, Aaron returned to school to finish his secondary education, attending the Josephine Allen Institute, a private high school in Alabama. During his junior year, Aaron joined the Mobile Black Bears, an independent Negro league team.[5] While on the Bears, Aaron earned $10 per game ($ in current dollar terms).[11]

    Aaron's minor league career began on November 20, 1951, when baseball scout Ed Scott signed Aaron to a contract on behalf of the Indianapolis Clowns.[13]

    Negro League and minor league career

    After relocating to Indianapolis, Indiana, eighteen-year-old Aaron helped the Indianapolis Clowns win the 1952 Negro League World Series.[13] As a result of his standout play, Aaron received two offers from MLB teams via telegram; one offer was from the New York Giants, the other from the then Boston Braves. Years later, Aaron remembered:

    “I had the Giants' contract in my hand. But the Braves offered fifty dollars a month more. That's the only thing that kept Willie Mays and me from being teammates – fifty dollars."[14]

    The Howe Sports Bureau credits Aaron with a .366 average in 26 official Negro League games, with 5 home runs, 33 RBI, 41 hits, and 9 stolen bases.[15]

    Aaron elected to play for the Braves, who purchased him from the Clowns for $10,000.[13] On June 14, 1952, Aaron signed with Braves' scout Dewey Griggs.[13] During this time, he picked up the nickname 'pork chops' due to the fact that it "was the only thing I knew to order off the menu".[16] A teammate later said, "the man ate pork chops three meals a day, two for breakfast".[17]

    The Braves assigned Aaron to the Eau Claire Bears, the Braves' Northern League Class-C farm team.[5] The 1952 season proved to be very beneficial for Aaron. Playing in the infield, Aaron continued to develop as a ballplayer and made the Northern League's All-Star team.[5] He broke his habit of hitting cross-handed and adopted the standard hitting technique. By the end of the season, he had performed so well that the league made him the unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year.[5][12] Although he appeared in just 87 games, he scored 89 runs, had 116 hits, nine home runs, and 61 RBI.[5] In addition, Aaron hit for a .336 batting average.[5] During Hank's minor league experience, he was very homesick and faced constant racism, but his brother, Herbert Jr., told him not to give up the opportunity.[18]

    In 1953, the Braves promoted him to the Jacksonville Tars, their Class-A affiliate in the South Atlantic League.[5] Helped by Aaron's performance, the Tars won the league championship that year. Aaron led the league in runs (115), hits (208), doubles (36), RBI (125), total bases (338), and batting average (.362).[5] He won the league's Most Valuable Player Award[5] and had such a dominant year that one sportswriter was prompted to say, "Henry Aaron led the league in everything except hotel accommodations."[10] Aaron's time with the Tars did not come without problems. He was one of the first five African Americans to play in the league.[13] The 1950s were a period of racial segregation in parts of the United States, especially the southeastern portion of the country. When Aaron traveled around Jacksonville, Florida and the surrounding areas, he was often separated from his team because of Jim Crow laws. In most circumstances, the team was responsible for arranging housing and meals for its players; Aaron often had to make his own arrangements.[13] The Tars' manager, Ben Geraghty, tried his best to help Aaron on and off the field. Former Braves minor league player and sportswriter Pat Jordan said, "Aaron gave [Geraghty] much of the credit for his own swift rise to stardom."[19]

    1953 also proved notable to Aaron off the field, as he met his future wife, Barbara Lewis. The night they met, Lewis decided to attend the Tars' game. Aaron singled, doubled, and hit a home run in the game. On October 6, Aaron and Lewis married.[12]

    Before being promoted to the majors, Aaron spent the winter of 1953 playing in Puerto Rico. Mickey Owen, the team's manager, helped Aaron with his batting stance. After working with Owen, Aaron was better able to hit the ball effectively all over the field, whereas previously, Aaron was only able to hit for power when he hit the ball to left or center field.[12] During his stay in Puerto Rico the Braves requested that Aaron start playing in the outfield. This was the first time Aaron had played any position other than shortstop or second base with the Braves.[12]

    Major League Baseball career

    On March 13, 1954, Milwaukee Braves left fielder Bobby Thomson fractured his ankle while sliding into second base during a spring training game. The next day, Aaron made his first spring training start for the Braves' major league team, playing in left field and hitting a home run.[10] This led Hank Aaron to a major league contract and a Braves uniform with the number five.[20] On April 13, Aaron made his major league debut and was hitless in five at-bats against the Cincinnati Reds' left-hander Joe Nuxhall.[10] In the same game, Eddie Mathews hit two home runs, the first of a record 863 home runs the pair would hit as teammates. On April 15, Aaron collected his first major league hit, a single off Cardinals' pitcher Vic Raschi. Aaron hit his first major league home run on April 23, also off Raschi.[5] Over the next 122 games, Aaron batted .280 with thirteen homers before he suffered a fractured ankle on September 5. He then changed his number to 44, which would turn out to look like a "lucky number" for the slugger. Aaron would hit 44 home runs in four different seasons,[20] http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/A/Paaroh101.htm and he would hit his record-breaking 715th career home run off Dodgers pitcher Al Downing, who coincidentally also wore number 44.http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=downial01

    At this point, Aaron was known to family and friends primarily as "Henry". Braves' public relations director Don Davidson, observing Aaron's quiet, reserved nature, began referring to him publicly as "Hank" in order to suggest more accessibility. The nickname quickly gained currency, but "Henry" continued to be cited frequently in the media, both sometimes appearing in the same article, and Aaron would answer to either one. During his rookie year, his other well-known nicknames, "Hammerin' Hank" (by teammates) and "Bad Henry" (by opposing pitchers) are reported to have arisen. (Hank Aaron: The Man Who Beat the Babe, by Phil Musick, 1974, p. 66)