When most Americans hear ‘Hank Aaron’ they immediately think of one thing first. The Home Run King. Every hardcore baseball fan recalls dignity, perseverance, respect, integrity, durability, and consistency among other words. Friday morning, Aaron’s daughter confirmed to the media that her father had passed away at the age of 86.
Aaron is best known for breaking the legendary Babe Ruth’s all-time record of 714 career home runs as an Atlanta Braves outfielder on April 8, 1974, versus the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Al Downing. Aaron chased the Yankee’s legends record amidst constant death threats and racist, hate letters mailed to him, battling through the media barrage with the integrity of few before him. He would finish his career with 755 home runs across 23 major league seasons spanning from 1954 to 1976. Six years later he would be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame where he would be a fixture for the next four decades.
Henry Louis Aaron was born one of seven children to Herbert and Estella Aaron in Mobile, Alabama on February 5, 1934. Aaron would sign with the Negro American League’s Indianapolis Clowns at age 17 in 1951. That would be short-lived, as just three months later his contract was purchased by the Boston Braves of the National League. Although Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier five years prior to Hank’s professional career, he would face the adversity of segregation and racism as he spent those first minor league seasons playing throughout the Jim Crow South.
Three years later, Aaron would reach the Braves during their second season after moving from Boston to Milwaukee. Aaron would join fellow young hitters Eddie Mathews, Joe Adcock, and Del Crandall to make up one of the most feared lineups in the National League throughout the decade. The Braves duel the Yankees in back-to-back World Series in 1957 & 1958 splitting two seven-game series. The 1957 World Series title was Aaron’s only championship but he would model consistency throughout his playing career averaging 37 home runs and 113 runs batted per 162 games during his career. Aaron would hit forty or more home runs in eight seasons but never hit 50 home runs in a season.
Hammerin’ Hank was a 25-time All-Star, National League Most Valuable Player during his 1957 championship season, and would win two batting titles, four home run titles, and four RBI titles during his career. He spent the entirety of his playing days with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves franchise with the exception of his final two seasons spent back in Milwaukee with the American League’s Brewers. Following his career, Aaron’s number 44 was retired by both the Brewers and Braves, with whom he served as an ambassador for the club and the game during the latter half of his life.
Aaron would retire the leader in many career offensive statistical categories at the time of his retirement and he leaves this life still ranked among the top five all-time in hits, home runs, runs scored, total bases, runs batted in, extra-base hits, and offensive WAR among others. As of his death, no one has driven in more runs or hit more extra-base hits than Hank. Most who saw him play considered him and Willie Mays the two greatest players of their era. There is no doubt Aaron goes down as one of the greatest to ever play the game.
Hall of Famers Lost
Aaron follows fellow Hall of Famers Don Sutton, Tom Seaver, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Phil Niekro, Lou Brock, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, and Tommy Lasorda as members who have passed away since 2020. Teammate Niekro and Dodgers’ Sutton and Lasorda were all present at Atlanta’s Fulton-County Stadium that night in 1974 when the Babe’s cherished record was eclipsed. Niekro started the game prior for the Braves in Cincinnati while Sutton pitched the following day for the Dodgers. There will never be another Hank Aaron, but we are a better world for what he gave the great game of baseball during his lifetime. Rest peacefully Home Run King.
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Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images