Henry “Hammerin’ Hank” Louis Aaron died Friday at the age of 86. Born February 5th, 1934, in Mobile, Alabama, he would grow up to become one of the most enduring athletes of the 20th century.
Hank Aaron’s stats are eye-popping
Hank Aaron is the definition of an icon. From April 8th, 1974 until August 7th, 2007, Aaron held the most hallow record in sports; most home runs in Major League Baseball history.
His baseball reference page is full of black ink, which indicates he led the league in that category. He was first in runs scored 3 times, hits twice, doubles 4 times, homeruns 5 times, RBI 4 times, average twice, slugging percentage 4 times, OPS 3 times, and total bases an astounding 8 times.
Aaron was a model of consistency throughout his career, but it should be noted he was consistently excellent. From 1955, his second year in the majors, through 1973, he never hit less than 24 home runs.
Aaron’s most memorable year took place in 1957 when he smashed 44 home runs and drove in 132 runs. Aaron blasted the Braves into the World Series after an extra-inning home run against the Cardinals late in September. Baseball writers awarded the league MVP to Aaron.
Hank Aaron = clutch
Against the dreaded NY Yankees in the Fall Classic, the 23-year-old Aaron refused to be intimidated by Mickey Mantle and the rest of the Pinstripes. Aaron hit a cool .393, smoked 3 homers, and drove in 7 runs to help propel Milwaukee to a win in 7 games.
Aaron would capture 1 World Series and 1 MVP during his 23 seasons in The Show. He grabbed both in 1957.
As his career was chugging along, Aaron kept piling up home runs. With each season gone, he inched closer to Babe Ruth’s immortal record of 714 home runs. The Babe had established the mark in 1935. When he retired after that season, most thought the number was insurmountable.
Hank Aaron played through hate
Aaron, an African American man from the south, faced a horrid amount of racism on his quest for 715. Some of the shots were subtle, such as writers suggesting he was naturally talented and did not have to work as hard. Other insults were beyond repulsive, similar to the hate Jackie Robinson experienced when he was breaking MLB’s color barrier.
Aaron received countless amount of hateful letters filled with racial slurs, imagery, and threats. According to Aaron’s wife, Billye, the FBI told him they did not want him to open his own mail.
“I never thought that playing baseball would bring out so many negative and bigoted thoughts in people’s minds,” Aaron said during his Sports Century. “I thought, maybe, they would be behind me, 100%. But that was not the case.”
Aaron lived with an unfathomable amount of pressure and fear in his heart. He stayed out of the spotlight and had a bodyguard around him, just in case he ran into one of the authors of his hate mail.
“I just thank God it’s all over with,”
Despite all of that, sitting 1 home run shy of tying Ruth’s record in April of 1974, Aaron refused to give in. He homered on Opening Day in Cincinnati, tying the Ruthian number of 714.
History would be made in Atlanta on the night of April 8th, 1974. Against the Los Angles Dodgers, the same organization that famously employed Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron found himself facing a lot more than pitcher Al Downing.
In the 4th inning, Aaron strolled up to the plate for his second at-bat. After taking a ball, Aaron smashed a home run over the wall in left field. He then trotted around the bases and into the record books. Poetically, Aaron did not really celebrate going around the diamond. It appeared like any other homerun to him.
His teammates mobbed him before his mother embraced him. Aaron got the ball back from the Braves Tom House, who caught in their bullpen.
“I just thank God it’s all over with,” Aaron fittingly said during an interview after the moment.
Leaving behind a legacy of greatness
Aaron would retire after the 1976 season with an incredible 755 home runs, 2,297 RBI, and 6,856 total bases. While he is no longer officially the home run king, he still leads all-time in the other 2 categories. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 1982.
Aaron’s home run record would stand for 32 years, until Barry Bonds controversially passed him in 2007. Many baseball fans still see Aaron has the homerun champion.
There are many incredible accolades Hank Aaron holds. If you subtract all of his home runs, he still has 3,000 hits. That is not true for any other player with 500 home runs.
He is the only person in history with 700 home runs and 3,000 hits, as both Bonds and Ruth came up short in the hits department.
He hit 20 homers in a year 20 times, which is also a record. Not to mention, he accomplished the feat in 20 consecutive seasons, from 1955 to 1974.
How Aaron should he remembered
It is very easy to argue Aaron was the greatest baseball player to ever step foot on a diamond. Along with fantastic players, such as Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., and Mike Trout, Aaron could do anything on the field. However, his consistency in the box will never be topped.
In 1999, MLB created the Hank Aaron Award to be given to the two best offensive players that year. A representative is chosen from the American and National League. Past winners include David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, and Miguel Cabrera.
Aaron dealt with an un-Godly amount of racism on his way to be the best home run hitter of all time. Along with supreme icons, such as Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, and Muhammed Ali, Aaron is right there with them in the conversation for best athlete of the 20th century.
He was a true and courageous figure who excelled in difficult circumstances. Aaron touched millions of people all over the world by not only being a terrific baseball player but a wonderful human being.
Rest in Peace Henry Aaron.