Goodbye to Hammerin’ Hank

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.

35 comments on “Goodbye to Hammerin’ Hank

  1. I had him in my top 5, too. I feel a great loss at his passing.
    He was a wonderful baseball player and a terrific person. He is a guy that I wish could be playing today, so that fans and players alike could see how great he was.

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  2. From MLBTR through McTaggart:

    Speaking with reporters Friday, Astros GM James Click suggested the team doesn’t expect to be that aggressive for the rest of the offseason, Brian McTaggart of MLB.com tweets. The Astros agreed to re-sign outfielder Michael Brantley and reunited with catcher Jason Castro this week, but their roster took a hit with the loss of outfielder George Springer to the Blue Jays. Otherwise, the bullpen has come up as a potential area of the need for the team (it did address it by signing Ryne Stanek and Pedro Baez in free agency), but the Astros don’t necessarily feel a sense of urgency to address it further. It’s possible they will enter 2021 without someone who has extensive experience as a closer, per Click (via McTaggart).

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    • I was just looking today going on memory
      Pujols has made 314m
      Will make 30m this
      And 10m for 10 yrs “lifetime service”
      Almost half a billion for 100 WAR

      A different era.

      I was also just watching Aaron highlights. He pulled a lot of his homers, but I remember as a kid how he liked to go out and get that high and outside strike and park it to opposite field.

      Maybe this will post, I wanted to show Op a couple of Leon ab’s, but you have to turn the volume way down.


      and

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  3. I got to see him a couple times at the end of his career back in Milwaukee. He hit a home run against the Rangers. The 3rd baseman extended up but didn’t try to jump and catch it as it went right by him, cleared the fence down the left field line and it seemed to never get over 10 feet higher than the fence. The guy sitting next to me said, “It didn’t long for that ball to get out of the park.”

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    • Just to confirm “East Coast Biases” – back in the late 50’s and early 60’s there was constant discussion of which New Yorker would break Babe Ruth’s record. Would it be Mantle or Mays, would it be Mays or Mantle? My dad said to me at that time, it will be neither – watch out for Hank Aaron. He is just as good and a year or two younger.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I saw him a number of times in the Dome but he didn’t hit a homer.
    In 208 games against the Colt .45s/ Astros (about a season and another 6 weeks) he had 46 HRs and 152 RBIs. If they had played him in Minute Maid I bet that would have been over 50 HRs

    Liked by 1 person

    • I saw hit a 3-run homer late in the game for a Braves win in the dome. It was a moonshot. All I could do was sit and watch and think about how many times he had done that.

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  5. The Astros have traded Cionel Perez(no options remaining and taking up a 40-man spot) for minor league Catcher Luke Berryhill, a recent draftee out of South Carolina. This clears a spot for Brantley.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Astros have Raley and Taylor as LH relievers already in their bullpen. Perez’s lack of options was a big factor for us. The Reds only LHer in their bullpen was their closer.

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    • Here are the fellas Berryhill will try to fit in with..

      At 24, I see him beginning in Ashville (A+) with CJ Stubbs and Cesar Salazar.
      He’ll get to catch Hunter Brown, and a guy I want you to look at Jonathan Sprinkle (from Crane’s alma mater, gonna be a good one!)

      Catcher depth:
      Nerio Rodriguez slugged 442 at age 19 in GCL
      Nate Perry finally breaks Top 30
      Colt Shaver light tower power
      Lorenzo Quintana aged’ yet has another yr before R5
      Oscar Campos hit .300 in 224 PA’s in ’19.
      Mike Papierski is ready defensively, looking for hit tool
      Lee and Stubbs, solid depth
      CJ Stubbs anticipated sophomore season
      Tyler Krabbe slugged .708 at Montavallo, he’ll be 24 this yr.
      Salazar is better than Holderbach.

      And now 2 yrs wrapped up in Maldy + Castro, nobody will break-in if they stay healthy.

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      • Right, and one thing to look for is assuming Stubbs takes over platoon with Castro in ’22, that’s 2 Lefty catcher bats. Perry is too. It would be an open invite for Lee to crash the party early, or any other RH hitting catcher.

        For now, Castro cks off a box that I was asking a few months ago, should we consider extending Maldy one more yr. I’d nix that idea now.

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      • What have any of you seen to suggest Stubbs will be here in 2022? He had one solid year at USC and hit well in one minor league season. Other than that, he’s been a space filler. I don’t see him putting it together and finding real value at his age. Years of control are only valuable if the player can help win games.

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      • G Stubbs org ranked #28, and has 2 options. Only other catcher ranked is Lee.

        I would suggest 51 MLB at-bats tells us nothing. He had 2 good yrs at altitude Lancaster and Fresno, and I like his contact%, K-rate & smart baserunning. Read his interview with Jayne Hansen yrs ago and his focus is on making the pitcher feel comfortable. With what the Astros require of their catchers, I don’t really look at betting avg’s and such, as catcher is and always has been a hole in the lineup in HOU. Do the little things; sac fly or advance a runner, instead of GIDP.

        Maybe you have another suggestion for ’22? Acquisition?

        I do give Korey Lee a little more credit that I would’ve a yr ago, based on Putila’s word. Andrew Vaughn is going to debut this year, and Lee was probably the 2nd best bat on that Cal team. Not unheard of he’ll be ready late in ’22.

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    • Perez had to go. But until last season, he and Framber looked about the same to me. Framber found the plate, and he didn’t. He is a couple years younger and may develop. But sometimes you need to take your chances with another pitcher that can throw strikes.

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  7. Astrocolt45…agreed. He just never took (I assume) that next step to the big club enough to stay. I’m sure it was just as frustrating to him as it was with the Astros. He came with what Luhnow thought very good stuff….at least that was the sell. He needs to learn to pitch out of trouble and I wish him well.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Going back to actually seeing Hank Aaron at the twilight of his career. He had already broken the Babe Ruth record after 50 years. So fans went to see him in his return to Milwaukee realizing that we might see his final home run. He was already in his 40’s. So each game, with each home run, we were going to tell our grandkids in 30-40-50 years, we saw his last home run.

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  9. Some thoughts:
    *If the Yankees get Taillon from the Pirates, they will be tough to beat. They already have the highest rated pitching staff in baseball.
    * I could see the possibility of CFer Jose Siri making the Astros out of spring training. He hit as many HRs in the Dominican playoffs(5) as Straw has in his whole career.
    * When Brantley signs, the Astros 40-man will sit at 40 players. If the Astros need to add a player or two to the 40-man, they will have room at the end of ST because of the injuries to Verlander and Josh James, who could then go on the 60-day IL.

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  10. There is a lot of talk about how Astros haven’t done anything much in the area of pitching.
    Pitchers who pitched for the Astros in 2020 who are gone:
    Roberto Osuna
    Cionel Perez
    Brad Peacock
    Chris Devenski
    Brandon Bailey
    Cy Sneed
    Chase De Jong
    Carlos Sanabria
    Joe Biagini
    Sometimes subtractions can be additions, if the replacements pitch better.

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    • Let’s see, OP, if we add Castellanos to the mix, who has been DFA’d, but not officially gone – the guys have a combined 0-6 record 65.2 IP with a 7.68 ERA.
      If you drop Bailey, Perez and Osuna who pitched pretty well in a very small amount of innings – the other guys totaled 0-6 with a 9.63 ERA in 47.2 IP

      That is a whole lot of yuck.

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  11. An interesting interactive showing how the HR leaders changed throughout years.

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