Hank Aaron Unisex T-Shirt
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Hank Aaron – Sports Century
Henry Louis Aaron (February 5, 1934 – January 22, 2021), nicknamed “Hammer” or “Hammerin’ Hank“, was an American professional baseball right fielder who played 23 seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB), from 1954 through 1976. Widely regarded as one of the greatest baseball players in history, he spent 21 seasons with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves in the National League (NL) and two seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers in the American League (AL).
His 755 career home runs broke the long-standing MLB record set by Babe Ruth and stood as the most for 33 years; Aaron still holds many other MLB batting records. He hit 24 or more home runs every year from 1955 through 1973 and is one of only two players to hit 30 or more home runs in a season at least fifteen times. In 1999, The Sporting News ranked Aaron fifth on its list of the “100 Greatest Baseball Players”. In 1982, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
Aaron was born and raised in and around Mobile, Alabama. Aaron had seven siblings, including Tommie Aaron, who played major-league baseball with him. He appeared briefly in the Negro American League and in minor league baseball before starting his major league career. By his final MLB season, Aaron was the last Negro league baseball player on a major league roster. During his time in MLB, and especially during his run for the home run record, Aaron and his family endured extensive racist threats. His experiences fueled his activism during the civil rights movement.
Aaron played the vast majority of his MLB games in right field, though he appeared at several other infield and outfield positions. In his last two seasons, he was primarily a designated hitter. Aaron was an NL All-Star for 20 seasons and an AL All-Star for one season, and he holds the record for the most All-Star selections (25), while sharing the record for most All-Star Games played (24) with Willie Mays and Stan Musial. He was a three-time Gold Glove winner, and in 1957, he won the NL Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award when the Milwaukee Braves won the World Series. Aaron holds the MLB records for the most career runs batted in (RBIs) (2,297), extra base hits (1,477), and total bases (6,856). Aaron is also in the top five for career hits (3,771) and runs (2,174). He is one of only four players to have at least 17 seasons with 150 or more hits. Aaron is in second place in home runs (755) and at-bats (12,364), and in third place in games played (3,298). At the time of his retirement, Aaron held most of the game’s key career power-hitting records.
After his retirement, Aaron held front office roles with the Atlanta Braves, including the senior vice president. In 1988, Aaron was inducted into the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame. In 1999, MLB introduced the Hank Aaron Award to recognize the top offensive players in each league. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002. He was named a 2010 Georgia Trustee by the Georgia Historical Society in recognition of accomplishments that reflect the ideals of Georgia’s founders. Aaron resided near Atlanta until his death.
Hank Aaron Highlights
In 1954, Aaron attended spring training with the major league club. Although he was on the roster of its farm club, Milwaukee manager Charley Grimm later stated, “From the start, he did so well I knew we were going to have to carry him.” On March 13, 1954, Milwaukee Braves left fielder Bobby Thomson fractured his ankle while sliding into second base during a spring training game. The next day, Aaron made his first spring training start for the Braves major league team, playing in left field and hitting a home run. This led Hank Aaron to a major league contract, signed on the final day of spring training, and a Braves uniform with the number five. On April 13, Aaron made his major league debut and was hitless in five at-bats against the Cincinnati Reds’ left-hander Joe Nuxhall. In the same game, Eddie Mathews hit two home runs, the first of a record 863 home runs the pair would hit as teammates. On April 15, Aaron collected his first major league hit, a double off Cardinals’ pitcher Vic Raschi. Aaron hit his first major league home run on April 23, also off Raschi. Over the next 122 games, Aaron batted .280 with 13 homers before he suffered a fractured ankle on September 5. He then changed his number to 44, which would turn out to look like a “lucky number” for the slugger. Aaron would hit 44 home runs in four different seasons, and he hit his record-breaking 715th career home run off Dodgers pitcher Al Downing, who coincidentally also wore number 44.
At this point, Aaron was known to family and friends primarily as “Henry”. Braves’ public relations director Don Davidson, observing Aaron’s quiet, reserved nature, began referring to him publicly as “Hank” in order to suggest more accessibility. The nickname quickly gained currency, but “Henry” continued to be cited frequently in the media, both sometimes appearing in the same article, and Aaron would answer to either one. During his rookie year, his other well-known nicknames, “Hammerin’ Hank” (by teammates) and “Bad Henry” (by opposing pitchers) are reported to have arisen.
Considerably later in his career, Aaron coined “Stone-fingers”, which would prove a popular handle for one of baseball’s more colorful characters, the famously distance-hitting but defensively challenged first baseman Dick Stuart, reportedly “delight[ing]” even its recipient.
Sal Maglie recommended throwing low curveballs to Aaron. “He’s going to swing and he’ll go after almost anything,” Maglie said of the Braves’ slugger. “And he’ll hit almost anything, so you have to be careful.”
Prime of his career
Aaron hit .314 with 27 home runs and 106 RBIs, in 1955. He was named to the NL All-Star roster for the first time; it was the first of a record 21 All-Star selections and first of a record 25 All-Star Game appearances. In 1956, Aaron hit .328 and captured the first of two NL batting titles. He was also named The Sporting News NL Player of the Year. In 1957, Aaron won his only NL MVP Award, as he had his first brush with the triple crown. He batted .322, placing third, and led the league in home runs and runs batted in. On September 23, 1957, in Milwaukee, Aaron hit a two-run walk-off home run against the St. Louis Cardinals, clinching the pennant for the Braves. After touching home plate he was carried off the field by his teammates. It is as of yet the only pennant-clinching walk-off home run in major league history in a non-playoff regular-season game. Milwaukee went on to win the World Series against the New York Yankees, the defending champions, 4 games to 3. Aaron did his part by hitting .393 with three homers and seven RBIs. On December 15, 1957, his wife Barbara gave birth to twins. Two days later, one of the children died. In 1958, Aaron hit .326, with 30 home runs and 95 RBIs. He led the Braves to another pennant, but this time they lost a seven-game World Series to the Yankees. Aaron finished third in the MVP race and he received his first of three Gold Glove Awards. During the next several years, Aaron had some of his best games and best seasons as a major league player. On June 21, 1959, against the San Francisco Giants, he hit three two-run home runs. It was the only time in his career that he hit three home runs in a game.
In 1963, Aaron nearly won the triple crown. He led the league with 44 home runs and 130 RBIs and finished third in batting average. In that season, Aaron became the third player to steal 30 bases and hit 30 home runs in a single season. Despite that, he again finished third in the MVP voting. The Braves moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta after the 1965 season. On May 10, 1967, he hit an inside-the-park home run against Jim Bunning in Philadelphia. It was the only inside-the-park home run of his career. In 1968, Aaron was the first Atlanta Braves player to hit his 500th career home run, and in 1970, he was the first Atlanta Brave to reach 3,000 career hits.
Home run milestones and 3,000th hit
During his days in Atlanta, Aaron reached several milestones; he was only the eighth player ever to hit 500 career home runs, with his 500th coming against Mike McCormick of the San Francisco Giants on July 14, 1968 — exactly one year after former Milwaukee Braves teammate Eddie Mathews had hit his 500th. Aaron was, at the time, the second-youngest player to reach the milestone. On July 31, 1969, Aaron hit his 537th home run, passing Mickey Mantle‘s total; this moved Aaron into third place on the career home run list, after Willie Mays and Babe Ruth. At the end of the 1969 season, Aaron again finished third in the MVP voting.
In 1970, Aaron reached two more career milestones. On May 17, Aaron collected his 3,000th hit, in a game against the Cincinnati Reds, the team against which he played in his first major-league game. Aaron established the record for most seasons with thirty or more home runs in the National League. On April 27, 1971, Aaron hit his 600th career home run, the third major league player ever to do so. On July 13, Aaron hit a home run in the All-Star Game (played at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium) for the first time. He hit his 40th home run of the season against the Giants‘ Jerry Johnson on August 10, which established a National League record for most seasons with 40 or more home runs (seven). At age 37, he hit a career-high 47 home runs during the season (along with a career-high .669 slugging percentage) and finished third in MVP voting for the sixth time. During the strike-shortened season of 1972, Aaron tied and then surpassed Willie Mays for second place on the career home run list. Aaron also drove in the 2,000th run of his career and hit a home run in the first All-Star game played in Atlanta. As the year came to a close, Aaron broke Stan Musial‘s major-league record for total bases (6,134), a record he was the most proud of, more than his home run record since it reflected his overall performance as a team player. Aaron finished the season with 673 career home runs.
Breaking Ruth’s record
Aaron himself downplayed the “chase” to surpass Babe Ruth, while baseball enthusiasts and the national media grew increasingly excited as he closed in on the 714 career home runs record. Aaron received thousands of letters every week during the summer of 1973, including hate mail; the Braves ended up hiring a secretary to help him sort through it.
Aaron (then age 39) hit 40 home runs in 392 at-bats, ending the 1973 season one home run short of the record. He hit home run number 713 on September 29, 1973, and with one day remaining in the season, many expected him to tie the record. But in his final game that year, playing against the Houston Astros (managed by Leo Durocher, who had once roomed with Babe Ruth), he was unable to achieve this. After the game, Aaron said his only fear was that he might not live to see the 1974 season.
He was the recipient of death threats and a large assortment of hate mail during the 1973–1974 offseason from people who did not want to see Aaron break Ruth’s nearly sacrosanct home run record. The threats extended to those providing positive press coverage of Aaron. Lewis Grizzard, then-executive sports editor of the Atlanta Journal, reported receiving numerous phone calls calling journalists “nigger lovers” for covering Aaron’s chase. While preparing the massive coverage of the home run record, he quietly had an obituary written, afraid that Aaron might be murdered.
Is this to be the year in which Aaron, at the age of thirty-nine, takes a moon walk above one of the most hallowed individual records in American sport …? Or will it be remembered as the season in which Aaron, the most dignified of athletes, was besieged with hate mail and trapped by the cobwebs and goblins that lurk in baseball’s attic?
At the end of the 1973 season, Aaron received a plaque from the U.S. Postal Service for receiving more mail (930,000 pieces) than any person excluding politicians. Aaron received an outpouring of public support in response to the bigotry. Newspaper cartoonist Charles Schulz created a series of Peanuts strips printed in August 1973 in which Snoopy attempts to break the Ruth record, only to be besieged with hate mail. Lucy says in the August 11 strip, “Hank Aaron is a great player … but you! If you break Babe Ruth’s record, it’ll be a disgrace!” Coincidentally, Snoopy was only one home run short of tying the record (and finished the season as such when Charlie Brown got picked off during Snoopy’s last at-bat), and as it turned out, Aaron finished the 1973 season one home run short of Ruth. Babe Ruth’s widow, Claire Hodgson, denounced the racism and declared that her husband would have enthusiastically cheered Aaron’s attempt at the record. As the 1974 season began, Aaron’s pursuit of the record caused a small controversy. The Braves opened the season on the road in Cincinnati with a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds. Braves management wanted him to break the record in Atlanta and was therefore going to have Aaron sit out the first three games of the season. But Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn ruled that he had to play two games in the first series. He played two out of three and tied Babe Ruth’s record on April 4, 1974, in his very first at-bat on his first swing of the season—off Reds pitcher Jack Billingham, but did not hit another home run in the series.
The Braves returned to Atlanta, and on April 8, 1974, a crowd of 53,775 people showed up for the game — a Braves attendance record. The game was also broadcast nationally on NBC. In the fourth inning, Aaron hit home run number 715 off Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Al Downing. Although Dodgers outfielder Bill Buckner nearly went over the outfield fence trying to catch it, the ball flew into the Braves’ bullpen, where relief pitcher Tom House caught it. While cannons were fired in celebration, two college students sprinted onto the field and jogged alongside Aaron for part of his circuit around the bases, temporarily startling him. A young Craig Sager actually interviewed Aaron between third and home for a television station, WXLT (now WWSB-Channel 40) in Sarasota. As the fans cheered wildly, Aaron’s parents ran onto the field as well. Braves announcer Milo Hamilton, calling the game on WSB radio, described the scene as Aaron broke the record:
“Henry Aaron, in the second inning walked and scored. He’s sittin’ on 714. Here’s the pitch by Downing. Swinging. There’s a drive into left-center field. That ball is gonna be-eee … Outta here! It’s gone! It’s 715! There’s a new home run champion of all time, and it’s Henry Aaron! The fireworks are going. Henry Aaron is coming around third. His teammates are at home plate. And listen to this crowd!”
Meanwhile, Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully addressed the racial tension—or apparent lack thereof—in his call of the home run:
“What a marvelous moment for baseball; what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia; what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron … And for the first time in a long time, that poker face in Aaron shows the tremendous strain and relief of what it must have been like to live with for the past several months.”
Return to Milwaukee
On October 2, 1974, Aaron hit his 733rd home run in his last at-bat as a Braves player. Aaron commented after the game that it was his last time as a player in Atlanta as his contract had expired. While he considered retirement, he said that he was willing to return to baseball for another year. He had also said that he would be interested in serving as a team’s general manager, someone who would make decisions and not a “house boy”. The Braves offered Aaron a position with the team when he retired, but the role would be more in public relations, rather than one where he could evaluate talent.
At the end of the season, Aaron, who had a prior relationship with Brewers owner Bud Selig, requested a trade to Milwaukee. He was acquired by the Milwaukee Brewers for Dave May thirty-one days later on November 2. Minor league right-handed pitcher Roger Alexander was sent to the Braves to complete the transaction at the Winter Meetings one month later on December 2. The trade re-united Aaron with former teammate Del Crandall, who was now managing the Brewers. He signed a two-year contract with the Brewers for $240,000 per year. Playing in the American League would allow Aaron to serve as a Designated hitter rather than play in the field.
On May 1, 1975, Aaron broke baseball’s all-time RBI record, previously held by Ruth with 2,213. That year, he also played in his last and 24th All-Star Game (25th All-Star Game selection); he lined out to Dave Concepción as a pinch-hitter in the second inning. This All-Star Game, like the first one he played in 1955, was before a home crowd at Milwaukee County Stadium.
Aaron hit his 755th and final home run on July 20, 1976, at Milwaukee County Stadium off Dick Drago of the California Angels, which stood as the MLB career home run record until it was broken in 2007 by Barry Bonds. Over the course of his record-breaking 23-year career, Aaron had a batting average of .305 with 163 hits a season, while averaging just over 32 home runs and 99 RBIs a year. He had 100+ RBIs in a season 15 times, including a record of 13 in a row.
Hank Aaron Collection on Letterman, 1982-2011
Hank Aaron, Academy Class of 1977, Full Interview
Hank Aaron – Baseball Player & Civil Rights Activist | Mini Bio | BIO
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