Henry Louis Aaron
(Hammer, Hammerin' Hank, or Bad Henry)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 0", Weight 180 lb.
- High School Central High School (Mobile), Josephine Allen Institute
- Debut April 13, 1954
- Final Game October 3, 1976
- Born February 5, 1934 in Mobile, AL USA
- Died January 22, 2021 in Atlanta, GA USA
"Aaron is the best ball player of my era." - Mickey Mantle
"Trying to sneak a pitch past Hank Aaron is like trying to sneak the sunrise past the rooster." - Joe Adcock
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 record until 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 Gloves and made 22 All-Star appearances.
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 semipro team, the Pritchett Athletics, as their shortstop and third baseman. After being seen by scout agent Ed Scott, he started playing with the semipro Mobile Black Bears for $3 a game restricted to play only in the hometown games for his mother would not allow him to travel.
Negro Leagues career
"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
Aaron's mother wanted him 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 owing to the fact that he batted cross-handed.
On June 14, 1952, Aaron's contract was acquired by the Boston Braves for $10,000. He was assigned to the Braves' Class C farm club, the Eau Claire Bears in Wisconsin, where he played second base. He rapped two line drive singles in his first game and would win the Northern League's Rookie of the Year Award, batting .336 with 89 runs scored in 87 games. 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.
The early years in the Major Leagues
On April 13, 1954, Aaron made his major league debut and was 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 would not belt below 20 for the next 20 years - before suffering a broken ankle on September 5. 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. On June 24, Aaron became the first strikeout victim of the Brooklyn Dodgers' future Hall of Famer, Sandy Koufax. Koufax came on in relief 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. Aaron would lead the league four times in doubles. In 1956, when he led the league with 34, it was the lowest total for an NL 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 him. First, he went from second in the batting order to fourth, behind Eddie Mathews instead of in front of him. Second, he switched from a 36-ounce bat to a 34-ounce model. He led the league with 44 home runs, a career-high 132 RBI, batted .322 and won his only MVP. 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 3 homers and 7 RBI.
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 and finished 3rd in MVP voting. Hall of Famer Don Drysdale served up the first of seventeen home runs he allowed 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.
July 3, 1960 saw Aaron hit his 200th home run off the Cardinals' Ron Kline at Sportsman's Park. He would lead the league in RBI (126) while belting 40 home runs. 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 Reds' pitcher Jim Maloney. Adcock and Thomas hit theirs off reliever Marshall Bridges. Despite the unprecedented feat, the Braves lost the game 10-8. Hank won his second doubles crown that season (39) to pair with 34 home runs, 120 RBI and a .327 batting average. 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. He established career highs in home runs (45) and runs scored (127) while hitting .323. 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, finishing .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.
Hank had a down season for him in 1964 with "only" 24 home runs and 95 RBI while hitting .328. In 1965, he had 32 long balls and a league leading 40 doubles, hitting .318 while scoring 109 runs. On September 20, 1965, he hit the last home run by a Milwaukee Braves player at Milwaukee County Stadium 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. Henry earned another home run (44) and RBI (127) crown that season while his batting average fell to .279.
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. He hit a conventional home run in the second game of the doubleheader, off Larry Jackson. He led the NL in home runs (39) for a final time to pair with a league leading slugging percentage (.573). Aaron hit his 500th home run on July 14, 1968 off Mike McCormick of the San Francisco Giants at Fulton County Stadium. He 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.
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, passing 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, more so 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 recorded 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. He slugged two homers off the great strikeout pitcher, Nolan Ryan, the first of which came 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 subsequently surpassed Willie Mays for second place on the career home run list with home runs on May 31 (648) off 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 NL 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. Aaron earned his 2,000th career RBI when he homered off the Astros' Jim York. He tied and 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 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).
Racism and the record
The chase to best 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 season ended with Aaron at 713 homers, after hitting a remarkable 40 in just 392 at bats. The Braves became the first team to have three players hit 40 or more homers in a season, as Darrell Evans and Davey Johnson also reached the 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. 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 him, 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 was not 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. As a popular member of the long-missed Milwaukee Braves club, Aaron brought credibility to the new Brewers franchise. He 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 Hank, and not Barry Bonds, who was the true home run king.
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, played in the majors and managed in the minors while son Lary, cousins Wilmer and Melvin and third-cousin Ging played in the minors.
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 TBS 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. In 2015, it was reported that he was part of a group seeking to buy the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA.
On February 5, 1999, at a celebration for his 65th birthday, Aaron was honored for his achievements as a player and a person. MLB 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.
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. Shortly after Aaron's death, the Atlanta Board of Education voted unanimously to change the name of Forrest Hill Academy, a high school named after a Confederate general, to Hank Aaron New Beginnings Academy.
Aaron's jersey number "44" has been retired by both the Atlanta Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers; it was the first jersey to be retired by two different teams. Additionally, he is a member of the Braves Hall of Fame and the Milwaukee Brewers/Miller Park Walk of Fame.
- 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
|Don Newcombe||Hank Aaron||Ernie Banks|
- 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
- Hank Aaron (as told to George Vass): "The Game I'll Never Forget", Baseball Digest, August 1970, pp. 39-41. 
- Hank Aaron and Lonnie Wheeler: I Had a Hammer: The Hank Aaron Story, Harper Perennial, New York, NY, 2007 (originally published in 1991) 
- David Adler: "'The standard of greatness': HOFers on Hank", mlb.com, January 22, 2021. 
- Anthony Castrovince: "Facing racism, Aaron still had hope, optimism: Former HR king, who died Friday, overcame hate throughout his life", mlb.com, January 22, 2021. 
- Peter Golenbock and Paul Lee: Hank Aaron: Brave in Every Way, Gulliver Books, Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, FL, 2001. ISBN 978-0152020934
- William Johnson: "Henry 'Hank' Aaron", in Gregory H. Wolf, ed.: Thar's Joy in Braveland: The 1957 Milwaukee Braves, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2014, pp. 13-19. ISBN 978-1933599717
- Richard Justice: "Baseball legend Hank Aaron dies at 86", mlb.com, January 22, 2021. 
- Mike Lupica: "Aaron inspired by youth, athletes speaking out", mlb.com, June 6, 2020. 
- Mike Lupica: "Hank Aaron reflects on Negro Leagues start", mlb.com, December 21, 2020. 
- Adam McCalvy: "Aaron cemented legacy during time with Brewers: Hall of Famer left impact in two seasons with club", mlb.com, February 15, 2017. 
- Adam McCalvy: "Remembering Milwaukee icon Hank Aaron", mlb.com, January 22, 2021. 
- Terence Moore: "Celebrating Aaron, a true American treasure", mlb.com, April 8, 2014. 
- Terence Moore: "Aaron's class, dignity evoke spirit of MLK: Legendary player deflects praise for bringing fans together during 1960s", mlb.com, January 16, 2017. 
- Bob Nightengale: "40 years later, Hank Aaron's grace a beauty to behold", USA Today Sports, April 8, 2014. 
- Bob Nightengale: "Despite hate mail, threats, Hank Aaron 'was never scared.' Behind the scenes when Aaron broke Babe Ruth's HR record", USA Today, April 8, 2020. 
- John Rosengren: Hammerin' Hank, George Almighty and the Say Hey Kid: The Year That Changed Baseball Forever, Sourcebooks, Inc. Naperville, IL, 2008. 
- 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. 
- Hank Aaron at the SABR Bio Project
- Hank Aaron No. 715: One Awesome Moment, Three Classic Calls The Southpaw
- Hall of Fame Biography
- The Baseball Page Bio
- Box Score from Hank Aaron's 715th home run