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Hank Aaron

The Early Years

Henry Aaron was born in a part of Mobile, Alabama, called "Down by the Bay," a poor black area of town on February 5, 1934. Soon after he was born his family moved to a better area of Mobile called "Toulminville" where he lived most of his life.that also produced big-leaguers Satchel Paige, Willie McCovey, Billy Williams, Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee, Amos Otis and his brother Tommie Aaron. His father, Herbert, worked for a ship- building company, as well as running a tavern and making moonshine. His mother, Estella, was a devoted mother and wife who wanted the best for her kids. She wanted all her kids to finish high school and college before doing anything like going into pro baseball.

As a child and later as a teenager Aaron had heroes. Several of them included Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, and Stan Musial, all baseball players. Aaron's like of Jackie Robinson was natural because Robinson was black like he and Robinson was the one that broke baseball's color barrier. When Aaron was eight he saw the Yankees and Joe DiMaggio for the first time in person.

Aaron's first organized baseball team was Toulminville Grammar School in the Louisiana Recreational League, a Negro softball loop. He was obviously the best player on the team, but he had an odd way of hitting. He hit cross-handed, he hit with his left hand over his right when normally he should hit with his right over his left. Aaron also broke another one of the cardinal rules of hitting. He hit off his front foot, his left foot. Normally the action of hitting off a front foot would decrease the power of a hitter.

For the first two years of high school Aaron played for Central High School. He played shortstop and third base. He was the best player at the school, yet he still batted cross-handed. Aaron and his team won the Negro High School Championship of Mobile two years in a row, only losing three games in the two years. Aaron also played football for a year but gave it up because he was frightened he would get hurt and ruin his baseball future. He was All-City in football as a guard.

For the last two years of high school his parents sent him to Josephine Allen Institute, a private secondary school in Mobile. By this time he was determined to be a pro-player. Aaron's parents did not approve of his dreams; they wanted him to finish school and go onto college.

When Aaron was fifteen he went to a Dodgers' tryout camp. He went, but was pushed out of the way when trying shortstop and later at the plate when he tried to hit. He left the camp without doing anything. The Dodgers were the team every black player wanted to be on because they were the team that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with.

When Aaron was fifteen he went to play with another team called the Mobile Black Bears. Billy Tucker, the owner of the team, paid Aaron between three and five dollars a game depending on how he played.

In 1951 Aaron's team, the Mobile Black Bears played against a team called the Indianapolis Clowns The Clowns were a good team looking for new, young prospects. In the game against the Clowns Aaron hit two singles, a double, and as always starred in the field. Aaron was only seventeen years old.

Buddy Downs, the Clowns' road secretary approached Aaron after the game. He asked, "How would you like two hundred dollars a month to play for us?" Aaron replied, "I'd like it, but I doubt if my mother would. She wants me to go to college." See, his mother had already decided to send him to college at Florida A & M. So Aaron and the Clowns made a compromise with his mother. Aaron could sign if he finished high school. So Aaron finished high school and went to play with the Clowns after he finished.

On the first and fifteenth on every month Aaron was paid one hundred dollars. He sent all but twenty-five of it home since he did not need it. His living was already paid for, he did not drink and he did not smoke, and he was not fussy about clothes. Often Aaron did not spend all that he kept.

At the Clowns tryout camp, Dewey Griggs had been sent by the Milwaukee Braves to see if Aaron was for real. At the beginning Aaron did not get a warm-up jacket because they ran out. The scout talked to Aaron and asked him if he could throw overhand. Aaron said yes but that he did not want to strain his arm. Then the scout told the trainer to get the kid a jacket. Then Aaron began having a better time. Griggs also insisted he have as much time as he wanted in the batting cage. The scout then took a deep interest in Aaron.

Eventually several teams had scouts following Aaron. The Yankees, the Giants, and the Phillies. When it came time for Aaron and Pollock, the Clowns owner, to decide where Aaron should go it came down to two teams, the Braves and the Giants. Pollock had Aaron decide which team he would rather play on. Aaron chose the Braves.

The Braves Era

Home Run Milestones
Home RunDatePitcherOpp Team
1stApril 23, 1954Vic RaschiCardinals
100thAugust 8, 1957Don GrossReds
200thJuly 3, 1960Ron ClineCardinals
300thApril 19, 1963Roger CraigMets
400thApril 12, 1966Bo BelinskiPirates
500thJuly 14, 1968Mike McCormickGiants
600thApril 17, 1971Gaylord PerryGiants
700thJuly 21, 1973Ken BrettPhilles
714thApril 4, 1974Jack BillinghamReds
715thApril 8, 1974Al DowningDodgers
755thJuly 20, 1976Dick DragoAngels
The Braves first assigned Henry Aaron to the Eau Claire Wisconsin team, Class C, Northern League. The manager was Bill Adair. Since the team needed Aaron so bad the Braves flew Aaron up to Eau Claire from Charlotte, North Carolina where the Clowns were playing. In his first game with the Wisconsin team he got two hits. In his second he got one hit. Soon thereafter Aaron was recognized as the most dangerous hitter in the league. After his first two weeks he made the All-Star game. Pitchers in the Northern League who had faced Aaron were scared to death of him.

In 1952 Aaron was the Northern League's Rookie of the Year. He was an unanimous choice even though he played in only 87 games. He batted .336, scored 89 runs, had 116 hits, 61 runs batted in, and nine home runs.

In 1953 Aaron was promoted to the Jacksonville Tars Class A South Atlantic League. This league was commonly referred to as the Sally League. Aaron became the first black player in the Sally Leage. He was one of three black players that entered the league that year. Ben Gerathy was his manager on the Jacksonville team. Aaron said of Gerathy, "Gerathy was the kindest, most understanding manager I ever had. And he was a fine baseball man who knew the game as well as anyone."

That year Aaron led the Jacksonville Tars to the Sally League pennant. In 1953 he hit .362 on his way to the batting championship. He also led with RBIs with 125, in runs scored with 115, in hits with 208, in total bases with 338, and in doubles with 36. Aaron was second in home runs with 22 and in triples with 14. With all this he won the Sally League's Most Valuable Player Award. One writer said, "Henry Aaron led the league in everything except hotel accommodations." Also while in Jacksonville he met and married his wife. He saw her while in front of his rooming house walking into the post office. T. C. Marlin introduced Aaron to Barbara Lucas. That night Barbara went to the game and Aaron hit a single, a double, and a home run. They were married on October 6. That winter Aaron, with his new wife, went to play in the Puerto Rican League. The manager, Mickey Owen got Aaron to crouch in his stance at the plate. Now, Aaron could hit to all fields while before he was mostly hitting to center and to left. Owen had Aaron learn the all-important strike zone. Owen, at the request of the Milwaukee Braves front office, played Aaron in the outfield. This was the first time Aaron had played anywhere except shortstop or second base with the Braves. Owen said that he was ready for the big leagues.

At the beginning of spring training 1954, there was no way that Aaron could have made the team. They had a place for everyone else but they did not have room for Aaron. Then Bobby Thomson was sliding into second base and broke his leg in three places. Aaron then had a shot for the outfield, but Jim Pendelton also had a chance. The two first tried for left field, but Pendelton asked to be switched back to his normal position, right field. Grimm had to switch him back after he had moved him to left. Aaron eventually won the job for Opening Day.

In Aaron's major league debut Aaron struck out twice, grounded out, hit into a double play, and fouled out. On April 23, 1954 , Aaron's first home run was hit. It was off a Vic Raschi fastball into the left-field seats.

Later in 1954, Aaron was hitting again in the ninth. He hit the pitch into deep left center field between two outfielders. As he rounded first base he saw he could make third base. He went around second, then went into third. As Aaron slid into third base, he slid straight into third base. His leg did not give, and Aaron broke his ankle.

In 1955 Aaron's second year was great. He had fully recovered from the ankle injury sustained the year before. Pitchers were by this time afraid to intentionally walk him. Aaron could hit any ball wherever he wanted.

In 1955, Aaron played in his first All-Star game. The American League was leading in the bottom of the seventh as the National League came to bat. Aaron walked and eventually scored the first of two runs. Later in the game he singled in the tying run. Later on the National League won in the twelfth as Stan Musial hit a home run.

The season ended with Aaron sixth in batting with a .314 average, and tied with teammate Johnny Logan for the league lead in doubles with 37. Aaron led the team in most areas of batting including batting, hits, and RBIs, while second in home runs only to Eddie Mathews.

In 1957 Aaron got another new contract. For the next season he was to be paid a reported $28,500. That year once again he had a great spring training. Even a sprained ankle could not slow him down. He batted .390 and had eleven home runs while missing seven exhibition games. For 1957, Aaron had three goals. One was to hit .350, two was to hit thirty home runs, and his third was to drive in a hundred runs.

In 1957, the league lead changed ten times just after the All-Star game. Also the Braves traded for Red Schoendienst for Bobby Thomson, Danny O'Connell, and Ray Crone. Then almost immediately Joe Adcock broke his right leg sliding into second base. Then Bill Bruton, the centerfielder, tore cartilage in his knee ending his season. Then the Braves moved Aaron to center field for the rest of the year. The Braves put a rookie, Wes Covington in right. They also had another rookie for relief of Andy Pafko. Then Pafko got hurt, and the Braves put Hazle in.

The Braves clinched the pennant on Aaron's 43rd home run of the year. Aaron's 44th home run was a grand slam off Sam Jones of the Cardinals.

Aaron finished the year with a .322 average, tied for third place. He had 44 home runs and 132 RBIs. He also scored 118 runs and had 369 total bases. And for the second of eight straight years he had a home run in every National League park.

The Braves played New York that year in the World Series. They had to open the Series on the road in Yankee Stadium. This was the time when the Yankees were the pride of New York. The Braves lost the first game 3-1. In the second game Aaron once again led the Braves to a 4-2 victory. In the third game the Yankees crushed the Braves with a 12-3 triumph. In the fourth game behind an Aaron home run and another by Eddie Mathews the Braves won 7-5. In the fifth game the Braves won 1-0. The Yankees then won 3-2 in the sixth game. Then in the seventh game behind Lew Burdette the Braves won the easiest game of the series 5-0. For the entire series Aaron was 11 for 28, three homers, seven RBIs, 22 total bases, and a .393 average. He also collected at least one hit in each of the games.

In midwinter Aaron received the National League's MVP. He beat Stan Musial by nine votes. Musial said, "He deserved it. I've had my share of honors and I have nothing but praise for him."

Aaron finished the 1958 season with a .326 average to finish fourth in batting. He had 30 home runs and 95 RBIs. The home run total was the second best of his career and the RBIs was his third best season count.

In the World Series that year Aaron hit .333. The Braves had won the first two games only to lose the World Series.

In 1959 Everyone expected the Braves to win the National League, everyone except themselves. But the Braves got off to a good start, but then they fell back some. They ended up in a fight with the Giants, Dodgers, and Pirate. But even better was Aaron's average. For a while he was over .500. He did not drop below .400 until June 15. Even after that he continued to threaten but never quite did it. In 1959 Aaron got off to a fast start, unusual for him. He was badgered by reporters the entire season about his chance at .400.

That year he collected his 1000th hit of his career at the age of 25. The hit was a single off Sandy Koufax. Aaron was the second youngest ever to reach the 1000th hit plateau.

That year Aaron won another batting title with a .355 average. He led the league in hits, total bases, and in slugging percentage. Aaron was third in home runs and RBIs.

Starting the 1960 season Aaron got another new contract. This time it was rumored to be around sixty thousand dollars. At the beginning of the year there was talk of moving Aaron to second base to fill in the gaps. Aaron was reluctant to move since he had not played second in over five years. But as it turned out he was only used to fill in for a couple of innings.

In 1960 Aaron's stats excluding his average were great. He led the league with 126 RBIs. He also led the league with three hundred thirty four total bases.

That year the Braves ended up in second place, and with attendance dropping. Less than one and a half million people showed up to watch Aaron, Mathews, Adcock, and company. Only winning would be expectable to the fans of Milwaukee.

In 1961 the Braves lineup changed drastically. A new middle infield and another new outfielder was hard on the team and on Aaron. Aaron had just received a contract worth near a reported sixty-five thousand dollars.

For two months Aaron had to play center field while his manager, Charlie Dressen continued to try to find a winning lineup. A new catcher, Joe Torre was inserted into the lineup. Also the Braves brought in another outfielder, Gino Cimoli. After the Braves got Cimoli Aaron could have his normal position back.

After all the changes the Braves finished fourth. They drew only one million one hundred thousand people the entire year. Highlights of the dismal season included a game in which Aaron, Mathews, Adcock, and Thomas hitting four consecutive home runs in the same inning of the same game.

Aaron's stats for the year included 39 doubles that he led the league in. He also hit for a .327 average, had 120 RBI's, and 34 home runs. In eight years of play he had 253 home runs. His lifetime average was .319. In 1962 the Braves had another bad year while Aaron continued to shine. This would become the norm in the years ahead. In 1962 Aaron got a new friend on the team. His brother, Tommie Aaron, was brought up to the majors from the minors. Tommie was five and a half years younger.

On April 22 Aaron ran into the right field fence bruising several ribs and a knee. Tommie Aaron replaced Henry Aaron. When Aaron returned to the lineup Tommie ended up shuffling between left field, first base, and the bench.

The Braves ended the year in fifth place and drew only 766,921 fans. Aaron batted .323, 45 home runs, and 128 RBI's. At the end of the year Aaron had 298 home runs.

In 1963 Aaron had a horrible spring training. But a horrible spring training did not bother Aaron and when the season started he was once again his old self. He hit his 300th home run on April 19, 1963. On April 22, Aaron drove in his one thousandth RBI with his 302nd home run. 302 home runs put him tied for 19th on the all time home run list. Aaron hit his 8th and ninth career grand slams that year also. He missed the triple crown by a mere seven points in his batting average.

At the end of the season, Aaron had 130 RBI's, 44 home runs, and a .318 batting average. He also had 31 stolen bases. Aaron and Spahn enjoyed great years, but the Braves as a whole did not. They finished sixth and drew less than eight hundred thousand through the gates.

In 1963 rumors started floating that the Braves would move out of Milwaukee and into Atlanta. In the spring of 1964 Atlanta announced plans to build a stadium since they already had a commitment from a major league team. With the attendance figures in Milwaukee falling fans and officials of baseball knew it would not be long before the Braves would be moving.

In 1964 Aaron, Spahn, and Mathews were the only ones left from the old Milwaukee 'Glory Days'.By the end of 1964 Aaron and Mathews had 739 combined home runs. They were six short of the National League record. On July 12, Aaron hit his two thousandth hit. At the end of the year the great pitcher, Spahn was traded. Now only Aaron and Mathews remained from the 'old' days.

On May 2, 1965 Aaron and Mathews broke the record for teammates combined home runs. Aaron hit a home run off Bo Belinsky of the Phillies to break the record. Now they were just out there to hit home runs since very few, including the two, thought that the Ruth and Gehrig total was out of this world. Actually the two Yankee greats only hit 793 combined at the same time. Aaron's 27th home run tied Aaron and Mathews with the Yankee greats. The home run went basically unnoticed. Then Mathews hit a home run three days later to break the record. It all went unnoticed until Bob Wolf decided to check the actual total of the Yankee pair.

The year was filled with ups and downs. The team would win a lot then lose a lot. At one time they were in first place for two days then dropped eight of ten to fall back out. Then the Braves said forget this and lost 14 of the last 21 games, leaving them in fifth place. Aaron finished the year with a .318 batting average, 32 home runs, and 89 RBI's. The year's home run total added to his previous home runs gave Aaron 398 home runs and exactly 100 for the three previous seasons. That year the Braves drew a record low 556,000. The ones that stayed away missed quit a lot of home runs.

In 1966 Aaron would collect over seventy five thousand dollars. He had a normal spring training then they went to Atlanta to play. The opener they lost in thirteen innings to the Pirates on April 12, 1966. For the first two games in Atlanta Aaron went one for ten. But eventually Aaron would come out of this little slump like he did all the others. He connected with a Ray Culp fast ball to send it to the left-field stands. That was the 399th of his career. Later the same day Aaron connected again but on a Bo Belinsky fast ball. Aaron became the eleventh player to reach 400 home runs.

Aaron had 44 home runs the entire year. He also had 127 RBI's, and .279 average. Even with a low average it was one of the better years for 'Bad Henry.' At the end of the year his lifetime home run total was 442, tenth place on the all time list. He also came to bat 603 times, a National League record.

1967 Milestones
1000thextra base hit
4500thtotal bases
Aaron started the 1967 season with a contract for two years, one hundred thousand each. The last link of Milwaukee's 'Glory Days' to Aaron was traded to Houston during the winter between the 66 season and the 67 season. Aaron's reaction was, "I'll miss him. He's a great guy and a great friend and was always a wonderful teammate."

Another milestone for Aaron was passed on June 12. Aaron got his 2,500th hit. On June 17 he passed another milestone, a single off Larry Dierker gave Aaron 4471 total career bases, sixth on the all time list in the National League. In the same game he passed Mathews for runs scored on the Braves team. On June 27 Aaron hit his eleventh grand slam of his career, breaking the tie with Ernie Banks for active players.On July 31 Aaron hit a home run off Curt Simmons for the 27th of the year, 469th of his career. More important to the home run was that it was his 1,500 career RBI.On September 3rd he did it again. He passed Musial and into ninth place all the all time home run list with 476 home runs

He won another home run batting championship with 39 home runs. Aaron was tied with Lou Brock in runs scored, 113. Aaron also had 37 doubles, second that year. The home runs put his career total at 481. Aaron finished third in RBI's only two behind the leader. Aaron was also fifth in hits and eighth in batting. Aaron batted .307.

Atlanta had its own nickname for Aaron, King Henry. With Aaron as the only big name no one had a chance to take a spotlight away from him. For his efforts in '67 he was named the Braves most valuable player for the sixth time.

In 1968 Henry Aaron's brother, Tommie, re-joined the Braves. The two of them even won one game against the Reds. Even a short slump by Aaron could not stop him for long. A slump by Aaron meant soon he would come out with a bang. And with a bang he did come out of it. With home runs and hits off every pitcher up there he could not be stopped.

Aaron's five hundredth home run was off Mike McCormick, a southpaw and a Cy Young award winner. After almost an hour rain delay Aaron came to bat. McCormick threw a belt high fastball, a hitter's dream pitch. Aaron did not miss it and with a flick of the wrists and the hit the ball went over four hundred feet. After the home run Bill Bartholomay presented a trophy with the number 500 in gold on top celebrating the historic home run. The other players who had reached 500 were either still playing or in the Hall of Fame.

"I'm glad I hit it off a Cy Young winner. It feels better when you hit one off a great pitcher like that," Henry Aaron said after the game of his 500th home run.

In 1968 Aaron's average was .287, respectable but not great. He also had 29 home runs and 86 RBI's, a little below normal for him. He went to bat over 600 times, extending that record to 10 times.

Aaron was once again picked to the All-Star team. About that time the Greatest Living Player and Greatest Living Team was named. The Greatest Living Player was Joe DiMaggio. The Greatest Living Team was without Aaron or Willie Mays. Aaron was upset at being left off but did not raise any objections

In 1969 Aaron's stats were good. A career tying record of forty four home runs that Aaron hit in 69. Aaron had 164 hits for a .300 batting average. Aaron also played in 147 games. Aaron hit 30 doubles and three triples.

In 1970 Aaron reached a new level of play in baseball. He moved into beyond elite status when he hit his three thousandth hit. At that time only eight players had reached 3000. DiMaggio, Ruth, and Mantle had not even got that far. He was now beyond those players. He even got a little recognition on the national level when he was put on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Aaron made the memorable hit in one of his favorite parks, Crosley Field in Cincinnati.

In 1971 Aaron hit his 600th home run. But on that day the Braves lost because Willie Mays drove in the winning run. Aaron was beginning to wonder if he would ever get out of that man's shadow. But soon everyone realized Mays was not going to be able to mount a serious attack. He was growing old and the home runs were coming less frequently. Aaron. meanwhile, was still hitting home runs at a rapid pace.

At the end of the 1971 season Aaron's brother Tommie was sent back to the minors, never to return to the majors. This only heightened Aaron's feeling of loneliness. His friends were hurt, and one friend was even beat in Atlanta by three policemen. Also making his feeling worse was the large contract he had signed with the Braves making him the first ever to get two hundred thousand dollars in a year.

In 1971 Aaron had a great season. Aaron had a career high forty-seven home runs. He also hit .327 batting average and 118 RBI's. Aaron did this in less than five hundred at bats. There was no doubt Aaron would reach Ruth soon.

Aaron hit home run number 647 in 72. That moved him second on the all time list in front of Mays, behind Ruth. Also that same home run was a grand slam that put him first on the all time list. Later his friend McCovey broke it. Also later in the year Aaron hit 660. This set a mark for most home runs by a player on the same team.

In 1972 Aaron once again went to the All Star game. This time it was held in Atlanta. He hit his second home run in All Star games. Then the manager put Aaron in right field, then later substituted for him. The home crowd gave Aaron one of the longest and loudest ovations that had been heard in Atlanta.

In 72 Aaron also broke Musial's all time total base record. As the records and home runs were piling up the Braves even gave Aaron his own personal secretary. This person was to help with scheduling the interviews and with answering the mail.

In 1972 Aaron hit thirty four home runs leaving him forty one shy of a tie, forty two shy of the record. By the end of the season he started getting the hate mail. More and more started showing up including death threats. This was driving Aaron more than anything along with recognition he felt that he deserved. Also pushing Aaron was the fact that Jackie Robinson died in 1972.

On July 21 Aaron hit his 700th career home run. The home run came in the bottom of the third versus the Phillies's Ken Brett on a fastball. Also in 1973 Aaron went to the All Star game again. And Aaron, Johnson, and Evans were the first trio on a team to each have 40 home runs.

Number 714 came on April 4, 1974, at 2:40 PM in Cincinnati. On Aaron's 11,289th trip to the plate he hit number 714. Jack Billingham fell behind in the count 3-1. Billingham threw a fastball and Aaron connected with it to send it over the wall. 52,154 saw the home run at the stadium and even more saw it on TV.

Number 715 came four days after number 714, April 8, 1971, at 9:07 PM in front of the largest crowd ever at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. Millions more were watching on TV. The weather was chilly and overcast. The bottom of the fourth inning, the Dodgers leading 3-1, a 1-0 count on Aaron. Darrell Evans on first base, Al Downing threw a fastball and Aaron hit it just over the left fielder's head and the left field fence. Home run #715! Tom House retrieved the ball and gave it to Aaron. The Braves won the game 7-4.

In 1974 Aaron was expected to retire but when he was told he was going back to Milwaukee he said forget it, I am going to play. Aaron was appreciated in Milwaukee, more than what could be said for Atlanta. On opening day the fans cried, "Hello Henry...It's nice to have you back where you belong." Aaron said he would never forget that. Aaron also said he would never forget what one fan told him. The fan said that it was the first time he had been to Milwaukee Stadium since the Braves left Milwaukee for Atlanta.

Since retiring from baseball in 1976, he worked in the Braves organization as a Vice President of Team Relations and Recruiting. He also applied for the Commissioner of Baseball position in the mid 80's, but was not even considered by the baseball committee. They hired someone from outside the baseball organization. Some of his stats are a lifetime batting average of .305, Aaron had 2,297 runs batted in (1st all-time), 6,856 total bases (1st), 12,364 at bats (2d), 3,771 hits (3d), 3,298 games played (3d), and 624 doubles (8th). Aaron was the NL's Most Valuable Player in 1957, and the right fielder won 3 Gold Glove awards for his fielding prowess. He led the NL in home runs, runs batted in, and slugging average 4 times each, and in batting average twice (1956: .328; 1959: .355).