Henry Louis Aaron (born February 5, 1934), nicknamed "Hammer" or "Hammerin' Hank", is a retired American Major League Baseball (MLB) right fielder who serves as the senior vice president of the Atlanta Braves. He played 21 seasons for the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves in the National League (NL) and two seasons for the Milwaukee Brewers in the American League (AL), from 1954 through 1976. Aaron held the MLB record for career home runs for 33 years, and he still holds several MLB offensive 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 "100 Greatest Baseball Players" list.
Aaron was born and raised in and around Mobile, Alabama. Aaron had seven siblings, including Tommie Aaron, who later played in MLB with him. Baseball was racially segregated when Aaron began his career. He appeared briefly in the Negro American League and in minor league baseball before starting his major league career. He played late in Negro league history; by his final MLB season, Aaron was the last Negro league baseball player on a major league roster.
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 1 season, from 1955 through 1975. Aaron holds the record for the most seasons as an All-Star and the most All-Star Game selections (25),[a] and is tied with Willie Mays and Stan Musial for the most All-Star Games played (24). He was a Gold Glove winner for three seasons. In 1957, he was the NL Most Valuable Player (MVP) when the Milwaukee Braves won the World Series. He won the NL Player of the Month award in May 1958 and June 1967. Aaron holds the MLB records for the most career runs batted in (RBI) (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 seventeen 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.
Since his retirement, Aaron has held front office roles with the Atlanta Braves. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. 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 resides near Atlanta.
Aaron was born in Mobile, Alabama, to Herbert Aaron, Sr. and Estella Aaron. He had seven siblings. Tommie Aaron, one of his brothers, also went on to play Major League Baseball. By the time Aaron retired, he and his brother held the record for most career home runs by a pair of siblings (768). They were also the first siblings to appear in a League Championship Series as teammates.
While he was born in a section of Mobile referred to as "Down the Bay", he spent most of his youth in Toulminville. Aaron grew up in a poor family. His family could not afford baseball equipment, so he practiced by hitting bottle caps with sticks. He would create his own bats and balls out of materials he found on the streets. His boyhood idol was baseball star Jackie Robinson. Aaron attended Central High School as a freshman and a sophomore. Like most high schools they did not have organized baseball, and so he played outfield and third base for the Mobile Black Bears, a semipro team. Aaron was a member in the Boy Scouts of America.
Although he batted cross-handed (i.e., as a right-handed hitter, with his left hand above his right), Aaron established himself as a power hitter. As a result, in 1949, at the age of fifteen, Aaron had his first tryout with an MLB franchise, the Brooklyn Dodgers; however, he did not make the team. After this, Aaron returned to school to finish his secondary education, attending the Josephine Allen Institute, a private high school in Alabama. During his junior year, Aaron first joined the Pritchett Athletics, followed by the Mobile Black Bears, an independent Negro league team. While on the Bears, Aaron earned $3 per game ($94 today), which was a dollar more than he got while on the Athletics.
He started play as a 6 feet (180 cm), 180 pounds (82 kg), shortstop, and earned $200 per month. As a result of his standout play with the Indianapolis Clowns, Aaron received two offers from MLB teams via telegram, one from the New York Giants and the other from the Boston Braves. Years later, Aaron remembered:
While with the Clowns he experienced some overt racism. His team was in Washington, D.C.
The Braves purchased Aaron from the Clowns for $10,000, which GM John Quinn thought was a steal as he stated that he felt that Aaron was a $100,000 property. On June 12, 1952, Aaron signed with Braves' scout Dewey Griggs. During this time, he picked up the nickname 'pork chops' because it "was the only thing I knew to order off the menu." A teammate later said, "the man ate pork chops three meals a day, two for breakfast."
The Braves assigned Aaron to the Eau Claire Bears, the Braves' Northern League Class-C farm team. The 1952 season proved to be very beneficial for Aaron. Playing in the infield, Aaron continued to develop as a ballplayer and made the Northern League's All-Star team. He broke his habit of hitting cross-handed and adopted the standard hitting technique. By the end of the season, he had performed so well that the league made him the unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year. Although he appeared in just 87 games, he scored 89 runs, had 116 hits, nine home runs, and 61 RBI. In addition, Aaron hit for a .336 batting average. During his minor league experience, he was very homesick and faced constant racism, but his brother, Herbert Jr., told him not to give up the opportunity.
In 1953, the Braves promoted him to the Jacksonville Braves, their Class-A affiliate in the South Atlantic League. Helped by Aaron's performance, the Braves won the league championship that year. Aaron led the league in runs (115), hits (208), doubles (36), RBI (125), total bases (338), and batting average (.362). He won the league's Most Valuable Player Award. and had such a dominant year that one sportswriter was prompted to say, "Henry Aaron led the league in everything except hotel accommodations." Aaron's time with the Braves did not come without problems. He was one of the first African Americans to play in the league. The 1950s were a period of racial segregation in parts of the United States, especially the southeastern portion of the country. When Aaron traveled around Jacksonville, Florida, and the surrounding areas, he was often separated from his team because of Jim Crow laws. In most circumstances, the team was responsible for arranging housing and meals for its players, but Aaron often had to make his own arrangements. The Braves' manager, Ben Geraghty, tried his best to help Aaron on and off the field. Former Braves minor league player and sportswriter Pat Jordan said, "Aaron gave [Geraghty] much of the credit for his own swift rise to stardom."
That same year, Aaron met his future wife, Barbara Lucas. The night they met, Lucas decided to attend the Braves' game. Aaron singled, doubled, and hit a home run in the game. On October 6, Aaron and Lucas married. In 1958, Aaron's wife noted that during the offseason he liked "to sit and watch those shooting westerns." He also enjoyed cooking and fishing.
Aaron spent the winter of 1953 playing in Puerto Rico. Mickey Owen, the team's manager, helped Aaron with his batting stance. Up to that time, Aaron hit most pitches to left field or center field, but after working with Owen, Aaron was able to hit the ball more effectively all over the field.[better source needed] During his stay in Puerto Rico, Owen also helped Aaron to transition from second baseman to outfielder. Aaron had not played well at second base, but Owen had noted that Aaron could catch fly balls and throw the ball well from the outfield to the infield.
The stint in Puerto Rico also allowed Aaron to avoid being drafted into military service. Though the Korean War was over, people were still being drafted. The Braves were able to speak to the draft board, making the case that Aaron could be the player to integrate the Southern Association the following season with the Atlanta Crackers. The board appears to have been convinced, as Aaron was not drafted.
1954 saw Aaron attending 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 thirteen 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.
Aaron hit .314 with 27 home runs and 106 RBI, 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, Aaron hit a two-run game-ending home run in Milwaukee, clinching the pennant for the Braves and being carried off the field by his teammates. Milwaukee went on to win the World Series against the New York Yankees, the defending champions. Aaron did his part by hitting .393 with three homers and seven RBI. On December 15, 1957, his wife gave birth to twins. Two days later, one of the children died. In 1958, Aaron hit .326, with 30 home runs and 95 RBI. 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 RBI and finished third in batting average.[nb 1] 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. 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.
During his days in Atlanta, Aaron reached a number of 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 that plateau.[nb 2] 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 knocked 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). Aaron finished the season with 673 home runs.
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 stated that his only fear was that he might not live to see the 1974 season. 
He was the recipient of death threats during the 1973–1974 offseason and a large assortment of hate mail 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 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 US 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, even 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 were 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, tying Babe Ruth's record, 4 April 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 wall trying to catch it, the ball landed in 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 very youthful 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." On October 2, 1974, Aaron hit his 733rd and final home run as a Braves player. Thirty days later, after Aaron decided not to retire, the Braves traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers for Roger Alexander and Dave May. The trade re-united Aaron with former teammate Del Crandall, who was now managing the Brewers. 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 hitting an average of just over 32 home runs a year and knocking home 99 runs batted in (RBIs) a year. He had 100+ RBIs in a season 15 times, including a record 13 in a row.
After the 1976 season, Aaron rejoined the Braves as an executive. On August 1, 1982, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, having received votes on 97.8 percent of the ballots, second only to Ty Cobb, who had received votes on 98.2% of the ballot in the inaugural 1936 Hall of Fame election. Aaron was then named the Braves' vice president and director of player development. This made him one of the first minorities in Major League Baseball upper-level management.
Since December 1980, he has served as senior vice president and assistant to the Braves' president. He is the corporate vice president of community relations for TBS, a member of the company's board of directors and the vice president of business development for The Airport Network. On January 21, 2007, Major League Baseball announced the sale of the Atlanta Braves. In that announcement, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig also announced that Aaron would be playing a major role in the management of Braves, forming programs through major league baseball that will encourage the influx of minorities into baseball. Aaron founded the Hank Aaron Rookie League program.
His autobiography, I Had a Hammer was published in 1990. The book's title is a play on his nickname, "The Hammer" or "Hammerin' Hank", and the title of the folk song "If I Had a Hammer". Aaron now owns Hank Aaron BMW of south Atlanta in Union City, Georgia, where he gives an autographed baseball with every car sold. Aaron also owns Mini, Land Rover, Toyota, Hyundai and Honda dealerships throughout Georgia, as part of the Hank Aaron Automotive Group. Aaron sold all but the Toyota dealership in McDonough in 2007. Additionally, Aaron owns a chain of 30 restaurants around the country. During the 2006 season, San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds passed Babe Ruth and moved into second place on the all-time home run list, attracting growing media coverage as he drew closer to Aaron's record. Playing off the intense interest in their perceived rivalry, Aaron and Bonds made a television commercial that aired during Super Bowl XLI, shortly before the start of the 2007 baseball season, in which Aaron jokingly tried to persuade Bonds to retire before breaking the record. As Bonds began to close in on the record during the 2007 season, Aaron let it be known that, although he recognized Bonds' achievements, he would not be present when Bonds broke the record. There was considerable speculation that this was a snubbing of Bonds based on the widespread belief that Bonds had used performance-enhancing drugs and steroids to aid his achievement. However, some observers looked back on Aaron's personal history, pointing out that he had downplayed his own breaking of Babe Ruth's all-time record and suggesting that Aaron was simply treating Bonds in a similar fashion. In a later interview with Atlanta sportscasting personality Chris Dimino, Aaron made it clear that his reluctance to attend any celebration of a new home run record was based upon his personal conviction that baseball is not about breaking records, but simply playing to the best of one's potential. After Bonds hit his record-breaking 756th home run on August 7, 2007, Aaron made a surprise appearance on the JumboTron video screen at AT&T Park in San Francisco to congratulate Bonds on his accomplishment:
I would like to offer my congratulations to Barry Bonds on becoming baseball's career home run leader. It is a great accomplishment which required skill, longevity, and determination. Throughout the past century, the home run has held a special place in baseball and I have been privileged to hold this record for 33 of those years. I move over now and offer my best wishes to Barry and his family on this historical achievement. My hope today, as it was on that April evening in 1974, is that the achievement of this record will inspire others to chase their own dreams.
|Hank Aaron's number 44 was retired by the Atlanta Braves in 1977.|
|Hank Aaron's number 44 was retired by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1976.|
In 1982, Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame during his first year of eligibility. In 1988 Aaron was inducted into the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame for his time spent on the Milwaukee Braves.
In 1999, MLB created the Hank Aaron Award, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Aaron's surpassing of Babe Ruth's career home run mark of 714 home runs and to honor Aaron's contributions to baseball. The award is given annually to the baseball hitters voted the most effective in each respective league. That same year, baseball fans named Aaron to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Hank Aaron on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.
When the city of Atlanta was converting Centennial Olympic Stadium into a new baseball stadium, many local residents hoped the stadium would be named for Hank Aaron. When the stadium was instead named Turner Field (after Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner), a section of Capitol Avenue running past the stadium was renamed Hank Aaron Drive. The stadium's street number is 755, after Aaron's total number of home runs; the 755 street number was retained for Turner Field's replacement, SunTrust Park. In April 1997, a new baseball facility for the AA Mobile Bay Bears constructed in Aaron's hometown of Mobile, Alabama was named Hank Aaron Stadium. Georgia State University acquired Turner Field, since rebuilt as Georgia State Stadium, in 2017, and university officials plan to build a new baseball park on the former Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium site, incorporating the left field wall where Aaron hit his record-breaking home run.
On February 5, 1999, at his 65th birthday celebration, Major League Baseball announced the introduction of the Hank Aaron Award. The award honors the best overall offensive performer in the American and National League. It was the first major award to be introduced in more than thirty years and had the distinction of being the first award named after a player who was still alive. Later that year, he ranked fifth on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and was elected to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.
On January 8, 2001, Hank Aaron was presented with the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Bill Clinton. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, from President George W. Bush in June 2002.
In 2001, a recreational trail in Milwaukee connecting Miller Park with Lake Michigan along the Menomonee River was dedicated as the "Hank Aaron State Trail". Hank Aaron was on hand for the dedication. Aaron is on the Board of Selectors of Jefferson Awards for Public Service.
In 2002, Aaron was honored with the "Lombardi Award of Excellence" from the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation. The award was created to honor Coach Lombardi's legacy, and is awarded annually to an individual who exemplifies the spirit of the Coach.
Aaron dedicated the new exhibit "Hank Aaron-Chasing the Dream" at the Baseball Hall of Fame on April 25, 2009. Statues of Aaron stand outside the front entrance of both Turner Field and Miller Park. There is also a statue of him as an eighteen-year-old shortstop outside Carson Park in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where he played his first season in the Braves' minor league system.
He was named a 2010 Georgia Trustee by the Georgia Historical Society, in conjunction with the Governor of Georgia, to recognize accomplishments and community service that reflect the ideals of the founding body of Trustees, which governed the Georgia colony from 1732 to 1752. Aaron received the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette in January 2016.
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