|Born: February 5, 1934 |
|Batted: Right||Threw: Right|
|April 13, 1954 for the Milwaukee Braves|
|Last MLB appearance|
|October 3, 1976 for the Milwaukee Brewers|
|Runs batted in||2,297|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Member of the National|
|Baseball Hall of Fame|
|Vote||97.83% (first ballot)|
Henry Louis "Hank" Aaron (born February 5, 1934), nicknamed "Hammer", "Hammerin' Hank", and "Bad Henry", is a former 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.) 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. He is one of only four players to have at least seventeen seasons with 150 or more hits. Aaron made the All-Star team every year from 1955 until 1975 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. Aaron had seven siblings. 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.
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, 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. 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. During this time, he also excelled in football. His success on the football field led to several football scholarship offers, 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. 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. 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. While on the Bears, Aaron earned $10 per game ($85 in current dollar terms).
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. 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."
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.
Aaron elected to play for the Braves, who purchased him from the Clowns for $10,000. On June 14, 1952, Aaron signed with Braves' scout Dewey Griggs. 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". A teammate later said, "the man ate pork chops three meals a day, two for breakfast".
The Braves assigned Aaron to the Eau Claire Bears, the Braves' Northern League Class-C farm team. 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. 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. Although he appeared in just 87 games, he scored 89 runs, had 116 hits, nine home runs, and 61 RBI. In addition, Aaron hit for a .336 batting average. 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.
In 1953, the Braves promoted him to the Jacksonville Tars, their Class-A affiliate in the South Atlantic League. 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). He won the league's Most Valuable Player Award and had such a dominant year that one sportswriter was prompted to say, "Henry Aaron led the league in everything except hotel accommodations." 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. 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. 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."
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.
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. 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.
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. This led Hank Aaron to a major league contract and a Braves uniform with the number five. On April 13, Aaron made his major league debut and was hitless in five at-bats against the Cincinnati Reds' left-hander Joe Nuxhall. 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. 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,  and he would hit his record-breaking 715th career home run off Dodgers pitcher Al Downing, who coincidentally also wore number 44.
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)
Prime of his career
In 1955, Aaron made his first All-Star team; it was the first of a record-tying 21 All-Star Game appearances. He finished the season with a .314 average, 27 home runs and 106 RBI. Aaron hit .328 in 1956 and captured first of two NL batting titles. He was also named The Sporting News NL Player of the Year.
In 1957, Aaron won his only NL MVP Award. He batted .322 and led the league in home runs and runs batted in. On September 23, 1957, Aaron hit a two-run walk-off in Milwaukee, and Aaron was carried off the field by his teammates. Milwaukee went on to win the World Series against the New York Yankees. Aaron did his part by hitting .393 with three homers and seven RBI.
In 1958, Aaron hit .326, with 30 home runs and 95 RBIs. He led the Braves to another pennant, but this time they lost a seven-game World Series to the Yankees. Aaron finished third in the MVP race, but he picked up his first Gold Glove.
During the next several years, Aaron had some of his best games and best seasons as a major league player. On June 21, 1959 against the San Francisco Giants, he hit three two-run home runs. It was the only time in his career that he hit three home runs in a game.
Aaron nearly won the triple crown in 1963. He led the league with 44 home runs and 130 RBI and finished third in batting average. In that season, Aaron became the third player to steal 30 bases and hit 30 home runs in a single season. Despite that, he again finished third in the MVP voting.
Aaron was the first player to hit 500 home runs and reach 3,000 hits.
The Braves moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta after the 1965 season.
Home run milestones and 3000th hit
During his days in Atlanta, Aaron reached a number of milestones; he was only the eighth player ever to hit 500 career home runs, with his 500th coming against Mike McCormick of the San Francisco Giants on July 14, 1968—exactly one year after former teammate Eddie Mathews had hit his 500th.  He was, at the time, the second-youngest player to attain that plateau.
On July 31, 1969, Aaron hit his 537th home run, passing Mickey Mantle; this moved him into third place on the career home run list, after Willie Mays and Babe Ruth. At the end of the season, Aaron again finished third in the MVP voting.
The 1970 season saw Aaron reach two more career milestones. On May 17, Aaron collected his 3,000th hit, in a game against the Cincinnati Reds, the team against which he played his first game. He was the first player to get 3,000 career hits and 500 career home runs. Also during that year, Aaron established the record for most seasons with thirty or more home runs in the National League.
On April 27, 1971, Aaron hit his 600th career home run, the third player ever to do so. On July 31, Aaron hit a home run in the All-Star Game (played at Detroit's Tiger Stadium) for the first time. He hit his 40th home run of the season against the Giants' Jerry Johnson on August 10, which established a National League record for most seasons with 40 or more home runs (seven). At age 37, he hit a career-high 47 home runs during the season (along with a career-high .669 slugging percentage) and finished third in MVP voting for the sixth time.
During the strike-shortened season of 1972, Aaron tied and then surpassed Willie Mays for second place on the career home run list. Aaron also knocked in the 2,000th run of his career and hit a home run in the first All-Star game played in Atlanta. As the year came to a close, Aaron broke Stan Musial's major league record for total bases (6,134).
While many expected Aaron to break Ruth's home run record in 1973, a key moment of the season came on August 6. This was Hank Aaron Day in Wisconsin and the Braves played the Milwaukee Brewers in an exhibition game. The guests in attendance included Aaron's first manager with the Braves, Charlie Grimm, his teammate from Jacksonville, Felix Mantilla, Eau Claire president Ron Berganson, and Del Crandall, the catcher for the 1957 world champion Braves and the-then manager of the Brewers.
The only position that the Braves wanted Aaron to play was as the designated hitter because the game was held in an American League park; at that time, however, the National League prohibited use of the DH even in scrimmages. Due to the fact that National League president Chub Feeney could not be contacted, it was left to the umpire, Bruce Froemming to make the decision. Froemming ignored the rule, allowing Aaron to be the DH for the Braves. Later on, National League officials ignored the infraction.
Breaking Ruth's record
Although Aaron himself downplayed the "chase" to surpass Babe Ruth, baseball enthusiasts and the national media grew increasingly excited as he closed in on the home run record. During the summer of 1973 Aaron received thousands of letters every week; the Braves ended up hiring a secretary to help him sort through it.
At the age of 39, Aaron hit 40 home runs in 392 at-bats, ending the season one home run short of the record. He hit home run number 713 on September 29, 1973, and with one day remaining in the season, many expected him to tie the record. But in his final game that year, playing against the Houston Astros (led by manager Leo Durocher, who had once roomed with Babe Ruth), he was unable to achieve this. After the game, Aaron stated that his only fear was that he might not live to see the 1974 season. 
Over the winter, Aaron was the recipient of death threats and a large assortment of hate mail from people who did not want to see a black man break Ruth's nearly sacrosanct home run record. The threats extended to those providing positive press coverage of Aaron. Lewis Grizzard, then editor of the Atlanta Journal, reported receiving numerous phone calls calling them "nigger lovers" for covering Aaron's chase. While preparing the massive coverage of the home run record, he quietly had an obituary written, scared that Aaron might be murdered.
"Is this to be the year in which Aaron, at the age of thirty-nine, takes a moon walk above one of the most hallowed individual records in American sport...? Or will it be remembered as the season in which Aaron, the most dignified of athletes, was besieged with hate mail and trapped by the cobwebs and goblins that lurk in baseball's attic?"
Aaron received an outpouring of public support in response to the bigotry. Newspaper cartoonist Charles Schulz satirized the anti-Aaron camp in a series of Peanuts strips printed in August 1973, in which Snoopy attempts to break the Ruth record, only to be besieged with hate mail. (As Lucy puts it in the August 11 strip, "Hank Aaron is a great player...but you! If you break Babe Ruth's record, it'll be a disgrace!") Babe Ruth's widow, Claire Hodgson, even denounced the racism and declared that her husband would have enthusiastically cheered Aaron's attempt at the record. Ruth, who was unprejudiced, had himself been subjected to racial taunts during his youth, by those who fancied that he had Negroid features.
As the 1974 season began, Aaron's pursuit of the record caused a small controversy. The Braves opened the season on the road in Cincinnati with a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds. Braves management wanted him to break the record in Atlanta, and were therefore going to have Aaron sit out the first three games of the season. But Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn ruled that he had to play two games in the first series. He played two out of three, tying Babe Ruth's record in his very first at bat off Reds pitcher Jack Billingham, but did not hit another home run in the series.
The team returned to Atlanta, and on April 8, 1974, a crowd of 53,775 people showed up for the game — a Braves attendance record. In the fourth inning, Aaron hit career home run number 715 off Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Al Downing. Although Dodgers outfielder Bill Buckner nearly went over the outfield wall trying to catch it, the ball landed in the Braves' bullpen, where relief pitcher Tom House caught it. While cannons were fired in celebration, two white college students, Cliff Courtney and Britt Gaston, sprinted onto the field and jogged alongside Aaron for part of his circuit around the bases, temporarily startling him. As the fans cheered wildly, Aaron's parents ran onto the field as well.
Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully addressed the racial tension — or apparent lack thereof — in his call of the home run:
- "What a marvelous moment for baseball; what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia; what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron. … And for the first time in a long time, that poker face in Aaron shows the tremendous strain and relief of what it must have been like to live with for the past several months."
A few months later, on October 5, 1974, Aaron hit his 733rd and final home run as a Brave, which stood as the National League's home run record until it was broken in 2007. Thirty days later, the Braves traded Aaron to the Milwaukee Brewers for Roger Alexander and Dave May. On May 1, 1975, Aaron broke baseball's all-time RBI record, previously held by Ruth with 2,217. That year, he also made the last of his 21 record-tying (with Musial and Mays) All-Star appearances; he lined out to Dave Concepción as a pinch-hitter in the second inning. This All-Star game, like his first in 1955, was before a home crowd at Milwaukee County Stadium.
On July 20, 1976, Hank Aaron hit his 755th and final home run at Milwaukee County Stadium off Dick Drago of the California Angels.
On August 1, 1982, Hank Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, having received votes on 97.8 percent of the ballots, second only to Ty Cobb, who had received votes on 98.2% of the ballot in the inaugural 1936 Hall of Fame election. Aaron was then named the Braves' vice president and director of player development. This made him one of the first minorities in Major League Baseball upper-level management.
Since December 1980, he has served as senior vice president and assistant to the Braves' president. He is the corporate vice president of community relations for TBS, a member of the company's board of directors and the vice president of business development for The Airport Network.
On January 21, 2007 Major League baseball announced the sale of the Atlanta Braves. In that announcement, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig also announced that Aaron would be playing a major role in the management of Braves. He will be forming programs through major league baseball that will encourage the influx of minorities into baseball.
On February 5, 1999, at his 65th birthday celebration, Major League Baseball announced the introduction of the Hank Aaron Award. The award was set to honor the best overall offensive performer in the American and National League. It was the first major award to be introduced in more than thirty years and had the distinction of being the first award named after a player who was still alive. Later that year, he ranked fifth on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and was elected to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.
His autobiography, I Had a Hammer was published in 1990. The book's title is a play on his nickname, "The Hammer" or "Hammerin' Hank," and the title of the folk song If I Had a Hammer. Aaron now owns Hank Aaron BMW of south Atlanta in Union City, Georgia, where he gives an autographed baseball with every car sold. Aaron also owns Mini, Land Rover, Toyota, Hyundai and Honda dealerships throughout Georgia, as part of the Hank Aaron Automotive Group. Aaron sold all but the Toyota dealership in McDonough in 2007.
Statues of Aaron stand outside the front entrance of both Turner Field and Miller Park. There is also a statue of him as an eighteen-year-old shortstop outside Carson Park in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where he played his first season in the Braves' minor league system.
In 2006, a recreational trail in Milwaukee connecting Miller Park with Lake Michigan along the Menomonee River was dedicated as the "Hank Aaron State Trail." Hank Aaron was on hand for the dedication along with Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle, who at the ceremony described himself as a boyhood fan of Aaron's.
Home run record eclipsed by Barry Bonds
During the 2006 season, San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds passed Babe Ruth and moved into second place on the all-time home run list, attracting growing media coverage as he drew closer to Aaron's record. Playing off the intense interest in their perceived rivalry, Aaron and Bonds made a television commercial that aired during Super Bowl XLI, shortly before the start of the 2007 baseball season, in which Aaron jokingly tried to persuade Bonds to retire before breaking the record.
As Bonds began to close in on the record during the 2007 season, Aaron let it be known that, although he recognized Bonds' achievements, he would not be present when Bonds broke the record. There was considerable speculation that this was a snubbing of Bonds based on the widespread belief that Bonds had used performance-enhancing drugs and steroids to aid his achievement. However, some observers looked back on Aaron's personal history, pointing out that he had downplayed his own breaking of Babe Ruth's all-time record and suggesting that Aaron was simply treating Bonds in a similar fashion. In a later interview with Atlanta sportscasting personality Chris Dimino, Aaron made it clear that his reluctance to attend any celebration of a new home run record was based upon his personal conviction that baseball is not about breaking records, but simply playing to the best of one's potential.
After Bonds hit his record-breaking 756th home run on August 7, 2007, Aaron made a surprise appearance on the JumboTron video screen at AT&T Park in San Francisco to congratulate Bonds on his accomplishment:
|"||I would like to offer my congratulations to Barry Bonds on becoming baseball's career home run leader. It is a great accomplishment which required skill, longevity, and determination. Throughout the past century, the home run has held a special place in baseball and I have been privileged to hold this record for 33 of those years. I move over now and offer my best wishes to Barry and his family on this historical achievement. My hope today, as it was on that April evening in 1974, is that the achievement of this record will inspire others to chase their own dreams.||"|
Awards and honors
- See also the information box in the upper-right section of this article (at "Career highlights and awards")
Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, his first year of eligibility. In 1988 Aaron was inducted into the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame for his time spent on the Milwaukee Braves.
In 1999, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Aaron's surpassing of Babe Ruth's career home run mark of 714 home runs, and to honor Aaron's contributions to baseball, MLB created the Hank Aaron Award, an annual award given to the hitters voted the most effective in each respective league. That same year, baseball fans named Aaron to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Hank Aaron on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.
Aaron is also an Eagle Scout the highest rank in the Boy Scouts of America.
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