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Henry Louis Aaron
(Hammer, Hammerin' Hank, or Bad Henry)

Inducted into Hall of Fame in 1982

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[edit] Biographical Information

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"Aaron is the best ball player of my era." - Mickey Mantle

Henry Louis "Hank" Aaron, a member of the Hall of Fame, is best known for setting the record for most home runs in a career (755), surpassing the previous mark of 714 by Babe Ruth. Aaron held the career home run record before it was broken in 2007 by Barry Bonds. Aaron also holds the career marks for runs batted in (2,297), extra base hits (1,477), and total bases (6,856). He won one World Series ring with the Milwaukee Braves in 1957, and the National League Most Valuable Player Award the same year. He also earned three Gold Glove Awards, and made 22 All-Star appearances.

[edit] Pre-professional career

Aaron was born in a part of Mobile, AL called Down By The Bay. It was a poor area of town populated mostly by minorities. His family later moved to a better part of Mobile called Toulminville, where he was brought up and attended school. In Central High School, Aaron played shortstop and third base and was an outstanding hitter though he batted cross-handed. His team won the Negro High School Championship two years running. In high school, he also excelled in football.

Aaron's last two years of high school were spent at Josephine Allen Institute, a private high school. Aaron was so proficient a ballplayer at this young age that before his fifteenth birthday he was playing on a semi-pro team, the Pritchett Athletics, as their shortstop and third baseman. After being seen by scout agent Ed Scott, he then started playing with the semi-pro Mobile Black Bears for $3 a game restricted to play only in the home-town games for his mother would not allow him to travel.

[edit] Negro leagues career

His mother wanted Aaron to attend college in Florida. But with the promise to finish high school, on November 20, 1951 he was signed by scout Bunny Downs to play for the Negro American League champion Indianapolis Clowns, earning $200 a month, after the Black Bears played an exhibition against the Clowns the previous year. He tried out for the Brooklyn Dodgers but did not get to show his abilities to the scouts there owing to the fact that he batted cross-handed.

"I will never forget that Hank Aaron was the shortstop for the black team. Pete Wojciechowski (Wojie), who spent time in the major leagues, pitched for us that day and struck out 17. . . It is the first time we saw Hank Aaron, who was 17 and had just finished his first year with the Indianapolis Clowns. Nobody else could hit Wojie - and Aaron was ripping him." - Milt Bolling, recalling a game between white and black teams, quoted in The Bolling Brothers Remember Mobile

[edit] Minor leagues

On June 14, 1952 Aaron's contract was acquired by the Boston Braves for $10,000. Aaron was assigned to the Braves' Class C farm club, the Eau Claire Bears, in Eau Claire, WI where he played second base. He got two line drive singles in his first game. He won the Northern League's Rookie of the Year Award, and he earned $350 a month. In 1953, Aaron, along with Horace Garner and Felix Mantilla, was sent to the Jacksonville Tars to break the color line in the South Atlantic League. Despite enduring non-stop racial epithets and threats, Aaron led the league in runs (115), hits (208), doubles (36), RBI (115), and batting average (.362) to become the league's Most Valuable Player. One writer said, "Henry Aaron led the league in everything except hotel accommodations".

To prepare for the big leagues, Aaron played winter ball in Puerto Rico and learned to play the outfield. On March 13, 1954, Braves left fielder Bobby Thomson broke his ankle sliding into second base during a spring training game. The next day Aaron made his first spring training start for the Braves in left field and hit a home run.

[edit] The early years in the Major Leagues

On April 13, 1954, Aaron made his major league debut and went 0 for 5 against the Cincinnati Redlegs' Joe Nuxhall. In the same game, Aaron's teammate, Eddie Mathews hit two home runs, the first two of a record 863 home runs the pair would hit as teammates. On April 15, Aaron got 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. Over the next 122 games, Aaron batted .280 (he would not hit that low again until 1966) with 13 homers - he wouldn't go below 20 for the next 20 years - before suffering a broken ankle on September 5.

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. On June 24, Aaron became the first strikeout victim of the Brooklyn Dodgers' future Hall of Famer, Sandy Koufax. Koufax came on in relief for the Dodgers in Milwaukee's County Stadium, pitching two shutout innings and fanning two. Aaron finished the season batting .314 with 27 home runs and 106 RBI.

1956 saw Aaron hit .328 to win the first of two NL batting titles. He was also named The Sporting News' National League Player of the Year. Hank Aaron would lead the league four times in doubles. However, in 1956, when he led the league with 34 doubles, it was the lowest total for a National League doubles leader in the period from 1920-2007. Aaron might, if he had chosen to do so, have accumulated more doubles since his 14 triples were second in the league that year. Two changes were made in 1957 that had a profound effect on Aaron. First, he went from second in the batting order to fourth, behind Eddie Mathews instead of in front of him, and, second, he switched from a 36-ounce bat to a 34-ounce model. Aaron responded by leading the league with 44 home runs, a career-high 132 RBI, batted .322 and won his only NL MVP Award. During a game on August 15th, Aaron belted his 100th major league home run off the Redlegs' Don Gross. On September 23, Aaron had what he called the best moment of his career. He drilled a pitch from the Cardinals' Billy Muffett for a two-run homer in the 11th inning of a game. It clinched the Braves' first pennant in Milwaukee and Aaron was carried off the field by his teammates. That year, Milwaukee registered its only World Series victory behind right-handed pitcher Lew Burdette, who defeated the New York Yankees three times. Aaron did his part by hitting .393 with three homers and seven RBI.

[edit] Prime of career

Aaron had another spectacular year in 1958 by hitting .326, with 30 home runs and 95 RBI. He led the Braves to another pennant, but this time they lost a seven-game Series to the Yankees. Aaron picked up his first Gold Glove Award and finished 3rd in MVP voting. Hall of Famer Don Drysdale served up the first of seventeen home runs to Aaron on June 29 of that year — more than any other pitcher.

On June 21, 1959 Aaron had his single most productive day as a hitter. Against the San Francisco Giants, he hit two-run home runs in the 1st, 6th and 7th inning off Johnny Antonelli, Stu Miller and Gordon Jones. It was the only time in his career that he would hit three homers in a game. Exactly one month later, on July 21, Aaron appeared on the television show "Home Run Derby", and had a record-setting stint, earning a record $13,000 for his time on the show, which included a most-ever 6 consecutive wins before he was defeated by Wally Post. The prize money encouraged Aaron to change his approach in hitting and swing for more homers. Aaron defended his decision by saying, "I noticed that they never had a show called 'Singles Derby'." Eddie Mathews led the league in home runs with 46 and Aaron led the league in hitting with a .355 average and finished 3rd in MVP voting.

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July 3, 1960 saw Aaron hit his 200th home run off of the Cardinals' Ron Kline at Sportsman's Park. On June 8, 1961, Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Joe Adcock and Frank Thomas became the first four players ever to hit successive home runs in a game. Aaron and Mathews went back to back off of Reds' pitcher Jim Maloney. Adcock and Thomas hit theirs off reliever Marshall Bridges. Despite the unprecedented feat, the Braves lost the game 10-8.

On June 18, 1962, Aaron hit what most consider to be the longest home run of his career — a 470-foot shot to straight-away center at the Polo Grounds in New York City. Only two other players ever hit a ball there — Joe Adcock in 1953 and Lou Brock, who oddly did it the day before Aaron. On April 19, 1963 he hit his 300th home run off the Mets' Jay Hook. Aaron just missed winning the triple crown in 1963 by leading the league with 44 home runs and 130 RBI. He finished .007 behind Tommy Davis in batting. Aaron became the third member of the 30-30 club, after Ken Williams and Willie Mays. He again finished third in the MVP voting.

On September 20, 1965, Aaron hit the last home run by a Milwaukee Braves player at Milwaukee County Stadium. It came off Ray Culp of the Phillies. The Braves moved to Atlanta the following season and made Fulton County Stadium their new home. Aaron's home run output increased due to the hitter friendly park — later nicknamed "The Launching Pad".

Aaron hit his 400th home run on April 20, 1966 off Bob Priddy of the San Francisco Giants. On August 23 he homered to set a major league record with Eddie Mathews for most career home runs by teammates (863). The first two batters faced by Nolan Ryan in his career were Mathews and Aaron, on September 11 of that year. Neither of them struck out against Ryan.

In the first game of a doubleheader against the Phillies on May 10, 1967, Aaron hit his only inside-the-park home run off Jim Bunning. Aaron hit a conventional home run in the second game of the doubleheader, off Larry Jackson.

Aaron hit his 500th home run on July 14, 1968 off Mike McCormick of the San Francisco Giants at Fulton County Stadium. Aaron was just the eighth player to reach the milestone and he did it exactly one year after his former teammate Eddie Mathews did it with the Houston Astros]. At the time, Aaron was the second youngest player to ever do so at 34 years, five months and nine days, a year and a half older than the youngest player to do so, Jimmie Foxx.

[edit] The chase is on

On July 30, 1969 Aaron hit his 537th home run to move into third place on the career home run list, past Mickey Mantle and behind only Willie Mays and Babe Ruth. Aaron was now in the most productive home run hitting stretch of his career, and it became apparent that he would have a legitimate chance of overtaking Ruth, moreso than Mays who was more rapidly approaching the end of his career.

The Braves marked the first year of division play by winning the NL West. The Braves were in fifth place on August 19, but outplayed the Giants and Reds down the stretch to win the division. Aaron slugged 44 homers and knocked in 97 runs. The Braves lost to the Miracle Mets in the League Championship Series, three games to none. Aaron finished 3rd in MVP voting.

Aaron got his 3,000th career hit off Reds pitcher Wayne Simpson on May 17, 1970, with a single in the second game of a doubleheader at Cincinnati's Crosley Field, becoming the first player to reach that milestone and hit 500 career home runs. On July 31, he hit a home run against Dave Giusti of the Pirates in Atlanta for this 30th homer of the season, establishing a National League record for most seasons with 30 or more homers (12).

1971 saw several milestones for Aaron. On April 27 he hit his 600th career homer off the San Francisco Giants' Gaylord Perry in Atlanta. The greatest home run hitter slugged two homers off the great strikeout pitcher, Nolan Ryan, the first of which was on May 21, in Shea Stadium. On July 31 Aaron homered in an All-Star Game for the first time, connecting off Vida Blue in Detroit. He hit his 40th home run of the season against the Giants' Jerry Johnson on August 10, establishing a National League record for most seasons with 40 or more home runs (seven). On September 21, Aaron homered against the Padres' Jay Franklin for his 46th home run of the season — a new career high. Five days later, he hit his 47th home run, the most he hit in a season. He finished third in MVP voting for the 6th time in his career.

During the strike-shortened season of 1972, Aaron tied and then surpassed Willie Mays for second place on the career home run list with home runs on May 31 (648) off of the Padres' Fred Norman and June 10 (649) off the Phillies' Wayne Twitchell. His home run on June 10 was also his 14th grand slam, tying him with Willie McCovey and Gil Hodges for the National League record. On June 28, Aaron hit a two-run homer to tie Lou Gehrig for second place on the all-time RBI list with 1,990. The next day he passed Gehrig with a home run off the Padres' Mike Caldwell to move into sole possession of second place on the all-time RBI list. Aaron got his 2,000 career RBI when he homered off the Astros' Jim York. Aaron tied then surpassed Babe Ruth for the most home runs by a player with a single team when he homered for the 659th time as a Brave on July 19 against the Pirates' Nelson Briles and for the 660th on July 25 against the Reds' Wayne Simpson. At the first All-Star Game to be played in Atlanta, Aaron thrilled the hometown crowd by homering in the sixth inning off the Cleveland Indians' Gaylord Perry. Aaron homered twice against the Phillies to break Stan Musial's major league record for total bases (6,134).

[edit] Racism and the record

The chase to beat the Babe heated up in the summer of 1973 and with it the mail. Aaron needed a secretary to sort it as he received more than an estimated 3,000 letters a day, more than any American outside of politics. Unfortunately, racists initially did much of the writing. A sampling:

"Dear Nigger Henry, You are (not) going to break this record established by the great Babe Ruth if I can help it. ... Whites are far more superior than jungle bunnies. My gun is watching your every black move."

"Dear Henry Aaron, How about some sickle cell anemia, Hank?"

The letters came from every state, but most were postmarked in northern cities. They were filled with hate; more hate than Aaron had ever imagined. "This," Aaron said later about the letters, "changed me."

Aaron hit his 700th home run off the Phillies' Ken Brett. The 1973 season ended with Aaron at 713 homers, after hitting a remarkable 40 in just 392 at-bats. He was 39. The Braves became the first team to have three players hit 40 or more homers in a season. Darrell Evans and Davey Johnson also reached the 40-homer mark.

Over the winter, Aaron endured death threats and a barrage of racist hate mail from people who did not want to see a black man break Ruth's home run record. Lewis Grizzard, then sports editor of the Atlanta Journal, became so concerned that he had an obituary written just in case. However, when the harassment became widely known, the ballplayer enjoyed a massive flood of public support motivated at least partially to counter the bigotry. This included Babe Ruth's widow who denounced the racists and declared that her husband would have enthusiastically cheered Aaron's attempt at the record.

As the 1974 season began, Aaron's pursuit of the home run record caused a small controversy. The Braves opened the season on the road in Cincinnati with a three-game series. Braves management wanted him to break the record in Atlanta. Therefore, they were going to have Aaron sit out the first three games of the season. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn ruled that he had to play two out of three. He tied Babe Ruth's record in his very first at bat, but did not hit another home run in the series. The largest crowd in Braves history (53,775) watched Hank Aaron break the record on April 8th with a home run in the 4th inning off Los Angeles pitcher Al Downing. The ball landed in the Braves bullpen where reliever Tom House caught it. While cannons were firing in celebration and Aaron rounded the bases, two college students appeared and ran alongside, congratulating him before security stepped in. Aaron's mother ran onto the field and into the arms of her son, tears brimming in her eyes. Mrs. Aaron wasn't just proud of her son; she rushed the plate because she thought her son had been shot. On October 2nd, Aaron hit his 733rd and final home run as a Brave.

One month later, on November 2nd, the Braves traded Aaron to the Milwaukee Brewers for Roger Alexander and Dave May. Because the Brewers were an American League team, Aaron could extend his career by taking advantage of the designated hitter rule. He finished his career in 1976 with 755 homers.

Aaron (in white) watches the 2009 All-Star game with Bud Selig and President Obama

As a popular member of the long-missed Milwaukee Braves club, Aaron brought credibility to the new Brewers franchise. Aaron broke baseball's all time RBI record on May 1, 1975 and on July 20, 1976, he hit his 755th and final home run off the California Angels' Dick Drago at Milwaukee County Stadium. His penultimate homer, in the second game of a doubleheader on July 11th against Steve Foucault of the Texas Rangers was of the walk-off variety; that made him the oldest player to hit such a home run until Jason Giambi beat him by a few days on July 29, 2013.

In 2014, the Atlanta Braves marked the 40th anniversary of Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's home run record by wearing a patch on their uniforms with the number 715 and Aaron's name. That anniversary brought out a flurry of articles commemorating the event, underlining Aaron's exceptional character and devotion to the game, and underlining the fact that in the eyes of a large number of fans, it was he and not Barry Bonds who was the true home run king.

[edit] Post-playing career

Aaron rejoined the Atlanta Braves organization as player development director four days after retiring from baseball. At the time, the team's general manager was his former brother-in-law, Bill Lucas. Aaron's other brother-in-law, Robert Lucas, has been a college coach and Braves scout. Those were not Aaron's only relations to appear in the baseball world - his brother Tommie Aaron played in the majors and managed in the minors while son Lary Aaron, cousins Wilmer Aaron and Melvin Aaron and third-cousin Ging Aaron played in the minors.

On August 1, 1982 Hank Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, receiving votes on 97.8 percent of the ballots. At the time, only Ty Cobb received a higher percentage (98.2) of votes cast.

Aaron became one of the first blacks in Major League Baseball upper-level management as Atlanta's vice president of player development. Since December 1989, he has served as senior vice president and assistant to the president, but he is more active for Turner Broadcasting as a corporate vice president of community relations and a member of TBS's board of directors. He also is vice president of business development for The Airport Network. His autobiography I Had a Hammer was published in 1990. Aaron now owns Hank Aaron BMW of south Atlanta where every car is sold with an autographed baseball.

Hank Aaron receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush at the White House on July 9, 2002.

On February 5, 1999, at a celebration for his 65th birthday, Aaron was honored for his achievements as a player and a person. Major League Baseball announced the introduction of the Hank Aaron Award, to be presented annually to the best hitters in the American League and National 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. Later that year, he ranked number 5 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and was elected to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.

In 2002, Aaron received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

Aaron attended Game 4 of the 2004 World Series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, MO and personally awarded the Hank Aaron Award to winners Barry Bonds in the NL, and Manny Ramirez in the AL.

Statues of Aaron now stand outside the front entrance of both Turner Field and Miller Park, where the Braves and Brewers currently play. (Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and Milwaukee County Stadium, which were Aaron's home parks for his entire career, were demolished in 1997 and 2001, respectively). Turner Field's home address is 755 Hank Aaron Drive SE, in honor of Aaron's 755 career home runs. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee plays its home games at Henry Aaron Field at Lincoln Park.

Aaron's jersey number "44" has been retired by both the Atlanta Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers.

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • 1953 MVP South Atlantic League Jacksonville Tars
  • 24-time All-Star (1955-1975)
  • NL MVP (1957)
  • 3-time NL Gold Glove Winner (1958-1960/RF)
  • 2-time NL Batting Average Leader (1956 & 1959)
  • 4-time NL Slugging Percentage Leader (1959, 1963, 1967 & 1971)
  • 3-time NL OPS Leader (1959, 1963 & 1971)
  • 3-time NL Runs Scored Leader (1957, 1963 & 1967)
  • 2-time NL Hits Leader (1956 & 1959)
  • 8-time NL Total Bases Leader (1956, 1957, 1959-1961, 1963, 1967 & 1969)
  • 4-time NL Doubles Leader (1955, 1956, 1961 & 1965)
  • 4-time NL Home Runs Leader (1957, 1963, 1966 & 1967)
  • 4-time NL RBI Leader (1957, 1960, 1963 & 1966)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 20 (1955-1974)
  • 30-Home Run Seasons: 15 (1957-1963, 1965-1967 & 1969-1973)
  • 40-Home Run Seasons: 8 (1957, 1960, 1962, 1963, 1966, 1969, 1971 & 1973)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 11 (1955, 1957, 1959-1963, 1966, 1967, 1970 & 1971)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 15 (1955-1967, 1969 & 1970)
  • 200 Hits Seasons: 3 (1956, 1959 & 1963)
  • Won a World Series with the Milwaukee Braves in 1957
  • Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1982


NL MVP
1956 1957 1958
Don Newcombe Hank Aaron Ernie Banks

[edit] Records Held

  • Most home runs, right handed batter, career, 755
  • Most home runs, one club, career, 733 (Milwaukee-Atlanta Braves)
  • Most home runs, brothers, 768 (Hank, 755, Tommie, 13)
  • Most extra base hits, career, 1467
  • Most extra base hits, right handed batter, career, 1467
  • Most extra base hits, National League, career, 1429
  • Most at bats, right handed batter, career, 12364
  • Most hits, right handed batter, career, 3771
  • Most intentional walks, right handed batter, career, 293
  • Most plate appearances, right handed batter, career, 13940
  • Most RBI, career, 2297
  • Most RBI, right handed batter, career, 2297
  • Most RBI, National League, career, 2202
  • Most total bases, career, 6856
  • Most total bases, right handed batter, career, 6856
  • Most total bases, National League, career, 6591
  • Most seasons with 100 or more runs, 15
  • Most seasons with 100 or more runs, consecutive, 13 (tied)
  • Most seasons with 150 or more hits, consecutive, 17

[edit] Further Reading

  • Hank Aaron (as told to George Vass): "The Game I'll Never Forget", Baseball Digest, August 1970, pp. 39-41. [1]
  • Hank Aaron and Lonnie Wheeler: I Had a Hammer: The Hank Aaron Story, Harper Perennial, New York, NY, 2007 (originally published in 1991) [2]
  • Terence Moore: "Celebrating Aaron, a true American treasure", mlb.com, April 8, 2014. [3]
  • Bob Nightengale: "40 years later, Hank Aaron's grace a beauty to behold", USA Today Sports, April 8, 2014. [4]
  • John Rosengren: Hammerin' Hank, George Almighty and the Say Hey Kid: The Year That Changed Baseball Forever, Sourcebooks, Inc. Naperville, IL, 2008. [5]
  • Lyle Spencer: "Aaron's 715th still a wonderful moment 40 years later: Baker, Downing, Lopes fondly recall witnessing Hammerin' Hank passing The Babe", mlb.com, April 8, 2014. [6]

[edit] Related Sites


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