(In a continuing series, we bring you some of our favorites from “Things to Love About Alabama”. Today, it is the immensely underappreciated Henry Aaron. ~ CB969)
Born to a modest family in Mobile in 1934, Aaron had a lifelong love of baseball, growing up idolizing the immortal Jackie Robinson. But, poverty didn’t stop Aaron from playing. Too poor to afford equipment, he fashioned his own bats and balls out of materials at hand, whacking bottlecaps with sticks as he strolled down the street.
While at Central High in Mobile, he did not have access to high school baseball. Again, lack of access didn’t stop Aaron. Already showing a prodigious talent, especially as a power hitter, he was selected to play third base and outfield for the Mobile Bears, a semipro Negro League team. His power at the plate caught the attention of MLB scouts, and at just 15-years-old, Aaron got a tryout with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Dodgers did not sign Aaron — a mistake the franchise probably still deeply regrets to this day.
He hadn’t failed though — Aaron went back to school and played with two more semi-pro teams, making about a hundred bucks a game, while at the same time finishing his high school education. It was only a matter of when Aaron when be signed by a club, not if. That opportunity came in 1951, when Hank was just 17-years-old. The Negro League’s Indianapolis Clowns took a shot on Aaron, and he did not disappoint — nor did he stay in the NLB for long either: in just 26 games, Aaron amassed a .366 batting average, picking up 5 HR, 33 RBI, 44 Hits, and 9 SB.
The newly-integrated MLB came calling next in 1952, with two franchises offering the scrawny kid from Mobile a deal: the New York Giants and the Milwaukee Braves. He accepted the Braves offer — $50 more a game! — and was sent to the Minors for development. Development indeed: All he did was be named to the all-star team and unanimously win the Rookie of the Year award. The next year, he became the league’s MVP.
After two years in the minors, Aaron was called up the Bigs and earned a spot on the roster. Almost immediately, Aaron got some playing time. Though he started slow at the plate, taking almost a month to hit a dinger, before injuries shortened his first season, Aaron had rebounded nicely to finish with a .280 average and 13 HR.
From there, Hank would only improve. The next quarter century, Hammerin’ Hank Aaron would make a record 25 All-Star appearances, and stake his claim to being arguably the greatest baseball player to ever live.
Aaron’s feats were monumental, and they deserve to be recited. Below are Aaron’s stats and where they stand in relation to MLB records.
- 2297 RBI (1st)
- 755 HR (1st* — And I’m not apologizing for this)
- 3771 Hits (3rd)
- 624 Doubles (11th)
- 6,856 Total Bases (1st — Stan Musial, in second place, is fully 700 behind)
- 25 total All-Star Appearances (23 in the MLB, T-1st)
- 1477 Extra base hits (1st)
- Games Played (1st)
- .555 Slugging (20th)
What will stand out the most about the ungodly career Aaron had is that he did so without winning a lot of individual or season-leader awards. He was never a triple-crown winner. He won the batting title just twice. Aaron only took the HR crown four times — and he never hit more than 47 in a season. He was only named MVP of the league once. He only won one World Series. He only earned three Gold Gloves. And he only led the league in RBI four times. Despite that, he was an all-star for a straight quarter-century, and finished his career with a .316 average, 755 HR, 2297 RBI, a .555 Slugging, and .374 OBP. What sets Aaron apart from most others vying for the title of Best Ever is not just his longevity — it his consistent excellence over those two-plus decades.
Almost as an afterthought, did we mention that he broke through the MLB racial barrier — not only as one of the game’s first black all-stars, but also in becoming one of the first black execs for a club? Because that happened too, the very year he retired from baseball. And, five years after hanging up his cleats, he was rightly immortalized in Cooperstown.
Aaron is also responsible for one of the most depressing moments in sports history — the racial abuse and death threats as he was chasing Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1973 and 1974. But, he is also responsible for one of its finest moments too: Not only the chase itself, but the walkoff shot in the second pitch of his first at-bat of the 1974 season — a high-hanging fastball that he devoured in a shot to left field.
Let the immortal Vin Scully take away.
Aaron is now 85 years old. He still lives in Atlanta. He still manages to catch a few Braves games now and again; the franchise for which he will always be its brightest star.
But, Hank Aaron is also one of the finest products, and overall class acts, that this state has ever produced.
Is Hank Aaron the greatest MLB player of all-time?
This poll is closed
No — my answer is below
Maybe — he has a case