Saturday, August 13, 2011

Henry "Hank" Aaron


Henry Louis Aaron (born in 1934) grew up one of eight children in Mobile, Alabama. He started playing semipro ball at Mobile at age 16. By 1951, the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues signed him as a shortstop. He was a cross-handed hitter for a while but switched to a conventional grip on a scout's advice and hit two home runs in his first game with his new grip.

The Milwaukee Braves signed Aaron on June 14, 1952 (founded by scout Dewey Griggs) in which they sent him to Eau Claire of the Northwest League, where he batted .336. In 1953, he was one of three players to integrate from the South Atlantic League. He led the circuit with a .362 batting average, 125 RBI, and 115 runs scored. When Bobby Thomson, the Braves' left fielder, broke his ankle during a spring exhibition game in 1954, Hank found himself a job in Milwaukee.

Aaron endured the bigotry and segregation of the major leagues at that time with poise and silence. In his early years in the majors, he was an enigma to most players and fans. He let his bat do the talking for many years, and only gradually did his image evolve from that of a hitting machine to an intellegent, forceful man who could achieve seemingly impossible goals.

Hank's all-around game was second to none. He became one of the top fielding outfielders in the game after coming up as an infielder. He was consistent, careful, and deadly at the plate. His quick wrists were the stuff of legend. He won the batting title in 1956. In 1957, he won the N.L. MVP Award with a .322 AVG, 44 HR & 132 ribbies. The Braves would go on to win the pennant that year, and then went on to defeat a powerful New York Yankees team in the World Series. Hank hit .393 with 3 HR in the seven games. Although the Braves remained a strong force for years to come, it was to be Aaron's only world championship. The Yankees got revenge on the Braves in the 1958 World Series, although Aaron hit .333 in the series.

The Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, and Aaron, who had plenty of success for years in what was one of the very worst hitting ballparks in baseball, was granted a reprieve in Fulton County Stadium, which proved to be a great park for hitters. Aaron would hit 245 home runs after turning 35 years-old, a record. He hit .357 with 3 HRs during the 1969 NLCS against the "Amazing" Mets, the only other postseason appearance of his long baseball career.

On April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's lifetime home run record with HR #715. Racism and fans' misguided reverence for the Babe added to the difficulty of reaching that monumental task. Always quiet, serious professional, Aaron withstood the burden and scrutiny of an all-out media storm with cool and restraint. "Thank God it's over," he said after the record-breaking game against Los Angeles.

On his way to being the all-time leader in total-bases (6,856), he would lead the league for a record 8 seasons in that category. He slugged over .500 18 times, and batted at least .300 14 times. Scored 100 runs in 13 straight seasons (15 times in all). He totaled an all-time best 2,297 runs batted in. He hit 30+ HRs in 15 seasons. The most HRs he ever hit for a single season was 47 HRs (1971), he hit more than 40, a total of 8 times.

At the time of his retirement, he had played more games and had more at-bats than any player in major league history.

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