Note – The George Springer post scheduled for today has been moved to next week.
Growing up in the ’60s, a lot of kids thought Willie Mays was the greatest baseball player. Others were in the corner of Mickey Mantle. But at my house, Hank Aaron was my parent’s favorite player and therefore mine.
They spent the 50’s and early 60’s in Milwaukee, where my dad was born and where my mom’s family moved in the 1940’s. The Braves came to town from Boston in 1953, Hank arrived as a rookie in 1954, Dan P was born in 1956 and the Braves had an excellent run, which included a World Series win in 1957 and a loss in 1958.
The team had future Hall of Famers Warren Spahn and Eddie Matthews (who played for the Astros towards the end of his career) and other keys like Lew Burdette, Joe Adcock and Bob Buhl. But the guy who shone then and throughout his 23-year career was Henry Aaron.
How good was he?
- His 755 HRs were number one in baseball when he retired and most believe he is still the leader (sorry Big-Head Barry Bonds)
- His 2174 runs scored were 2nd all-time when he retired and still number four
- He was number one in RBIs (2297), Total Bases (6856 ), and Extra base hits (1477)
- He won one NL MVP and won one World Series MVP, but received MVP votes in 19 seasons
- He made 20 All Star teams, though he (like Mays) probably did not deserve a couple of those towards the end
- He earned 3 golden gloves and eight times was in the top 10 in the league in stolen bases
- Even though he never walked more than 92 times (he liked to swing), he still walked more than he struck out in his career
- He never hit 50 HRs, but he had 15 seasons with between 30 and 47 HRs
- He had 11 seasons with 100 or more RBIs and 16 seasons with at least 92 RBIs
But there was a lot more to Hank than just numbers. He grew up poor in Alabama, having to make do with items around the house for baseball equipment. He truly bridged many generations, signing with the Negro League Indianapolis Clowns at the age of 17 and within three months received two offers from major league clubs. If the Boston Braves had not offered him $50 more per month he would have been part of the NY Giants organization and …. eventually part of an outfield with Willie Mays, perhaps the most lethal pairing since Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
He faced prejudice and racial harassment in his career, never more than when he dared to pass Ruth for the home run crown. Among an avalanche of hate mail and death threats, he went about his business. I was watching that night in 1973 when he took Al Downing deep for his 715th HR on national TV. It was one of the proudest moments of my sports fan life.
He was a trailblazer as a player, being the big African American star in the deep South bastion of Atlanta. He then went on to be one of the first black baseball executives with his Atlanta Braves.
Hank Aaron may not have been the greatest baseball player ever, but reading the list of the greatest players you would definitely hit his name in the top five. Baseball suffered another great loss today and a kid from Milwaukee lost a childhood hero.