Hank Aaron Biography

Henry Louis "Hank" Aaron is a former Major League Baseball player who retired as the all-time leader in career home runs after playing from 1954 to 1976 with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers. Over that period he collected more RBI and more extra base hits than anyone in history. For 21 straight years he was named an All-Star and for 20 consecutive years he slugged at least 20 home runs or more. Fourteen times he hit over .300 in a major league season and eight times he hit 40 home runs or more. On April 8, 1974, he conquered Babe Ruth and one of the most hallowed records in sports by knocking his 715th home run. He ended his career with a .305 batting average, 755 home runs, 3,771 hits, 2,297 RBI, three Gold Gloves, a World Series championship and an MVP award. Aaron's home run record has since been broken by Barry Bonds, but he remains one of just three members of the 700-home run club.

Early Years

Henry Louis Aaron was born February 5, 1934, in Down the Bay (a section of Mobile), Alabama. He was the third child of Estella and Herbert Aaron. When the family welcomed three more children into the family they were forced to relocate to a bigger home in Toulminville. While the home lacked electricity, windows and indoor plumbing, the rural area allowed the family to live off the land. Hank had jobs such as mowing lawns, picking potatoes and delivering ice. Hank's love for the game came from watching his father's local team, formed out of the tavern he opened next to the family home -- the Black Cat Inn. His uncle Bubba also taught him the intricacies of the game. Hank played with the local kids in the wide open fields of Toulminville, but, because baseballs were too expensive, Hank fashioned his own out of nylon panty hose wrapped around golf balls.

Throughout his grade school years Aaron didn't play in organized ball. Segregation was rampant and only white students had high school baseball teams, so Aaron played on a fast-pitch softball team. He did however, play for the school's football team and was named to the all-city squad. Fearing he might hurt himself playing football and jeopardize his baseball dreams, he quit the team and sacrificed his chances at a college scholarship. After informing the school of his decision he was chased down the hallway by a cane-waving principal. In his junior year he was expelled after repeatedly skipping class to listen to the Dodgers games and the exploits of their young second baseman of Jackie Robinson. The following fall he enrolled at the Josephine Allen Institute.

Playing with locals at Carver Park, Aaron was noticed by Ed Scott, a manager of the Mobile Black Bears -- an all-black semipro team who promptly brought Aaron in. As a shortstop for the Black Bears, Aaron showed so much promise that Scott contacted his friend McKinley "Bunny" Downs of the Negro American League's Indianapolis Clowns. After Aaron turned 18 he was given a contract by the Clowns. On the Clowns, Hank revealed himself as such a serious prospect that Clowns owner Syd Pollock contacted the minor league director of the Boston Braves, knowing that he could get serious money for such a talent.

On May 25, Braves scout Dewey Griggs showed up to a doubleheader against the Memphis Red Sox in Buffalo, New York. In Griggs' scouting report he wrote, "This boy could be the answer."

Professional Career

Minor Leagues

Aaron finished the 1952 season with the Eau Claire Bears of the Northern League. Playing on his first integrated team, Aaron actually grew more confident. During that first season he was selected to the Northern League All-Star game and named Rookie of the Year after hitting .336 with nine home runs in 87 games. After the season's end, he returned to help the Indianapolis Clowns win the Negro League World Series by hitting over .400 with five home runs.

The next season he was assigned to the Class A Jacksonville Tars and became one of the first players to integrate the South Atlantic League. Despite playing in a segregated South, he batted .362 with 22 home runs and 14 triples to become the league's Most Valuable Player. One sportswriter wrote, "Henry Aaron led the league in everything except hotel accommodations." At the Winter Leagues in Puerto Rico, Aaron got better acquainted with fielding the position of outfield.

Milwaukee Braves (1954-65)

Bobby Thompson's broken ankle in spring training of 1954 opened the door for Aaron to join the major league team in left field. On April 13, 1954, he made his major league debut and 10 days later slugged his first career home run off of Vic Raschi of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Aaron batted .280 with 13 home runs and 69 RBI before breaking his own ankle on Sept. 5 while sliding into third base. He finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting behind Wally Moon, Ernie Banks and Gene Conley.

In 1955 he was selected to his first All-Star team -- the first of 21 consecutive selections. That season he batted .314 with 27 home runs and 106 RBI. He also led the league with 37 doubles. The following season he led the league in batting average with .328 to go along with 26 home runs, 14 triples, and 96 RBI. He finished third in MVP voting behind Don Newcombe and Sal Maglie.

In 1957 with a squad consisting of Eddie Matthews, Red Schoendiest and Warren Spahn, the Braves set a major league attendance record with 2.2 million fans and captured the pennant by going 95-59. Aaron sealed an impressive season on Sept. 23, when he hit an 11th-inning two-run home run off the St. Louis Cardinals' Billy Muffet, giving the Braves a 4-2 victory and the National League title. Aaron's entire season was sensational, leading the league in home runs (44), RBI (132), and runs (118) to earn the league's MVP award. Against the New York Yankees in the World Series, Aaron batted .393 with three home runs and seven RBI to help the Braves earn their first World Series title in 43 years. After the season, Aaron returned to Mobile where he was honored with "Hank Aaron Day" and a parade in his honor through the streets of the city.

The Braves returned to face the Yankees again in the 1958 World Series, but this time they lost in seven games. During the series Aaron batted .333 and had a .419 OBP.

In 1959 Aaron had a career best .355 batting average, 223 hits and 46 doubles. He also put up 39 home runs and 123 RBI to finish behind Ernie Banks and fellow teammate Eddie Matthews for the MVP award. With a record of 86-70 the Braves missed out on their third straight pennant by two games to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Throughout the decade of the 1960's Aaron was consistently great. Aaron often attributed the consistency to something Jackie Robinson had told him earlier in his career: "Baseball is a game you play every day, not once a week." Over the decade he averaged more than 37 home runs and almost 111 RBI a season. Three times he led the league in home runs and RBI.

In 1963 he led the league with 44 home runs and 130 RBI. He narrowly missed out on winning the triple crown by finishing third with a .319 batting average (Tommy Davis led the league with a .326 mark). Aaron also joined the 30/30 club by stealing 31 bases. He finished third in MVP voting behind Sandy Koufax and Dick Groat.

Atlanta Braves (1966-74)

In 1966 the Braves moved to Atlanta, and Aaron responded by leading the league with 44 home runs and 127 RBI.

On July 14, 1968, at Atlanta Stadium, Aaron knocked his 500th career home run off Giants pitcher Mike McCormick. The crowd of more than 34,000 gave Aaron a several minute standing ovation as Aaron was presented a trophy at home plate.

In 1969 he again finished third in MVP voting after batting .300 with 44 home runs and 97 RBI. On July 30, 1969, he hit his 537th career home run, moving past Mickey Mantle as third on the all-time list. Going 93-69 that season, the Braves won the NL West to square off against the Mets in the NL Championship Series. In the NLCS the Braves were swept in three games by the eventual World Series champions, but Aaron hit a home run in each contest and batted .357 with seven RBI.

Record Breaker

On May 17, 1970, Aaron hit a single off Cincinnati Reds pitcher Wayne Simpson to collect his 3,000th career hit. He became the first player with 500 career home runs to have 3,000 career hits.

On April 27, 1971, Aaron hit his 600th career home run off Gaylord Perry of the San Francisco Giants. That season he recorded his highest career single season on-base and slugging percentages with .410 and .669, respectively. He also belted 47 home runs and recorded 118 RBI with a .327 batting average. Once again he finished third in MVP voting, this time behind Joe Torre and Willie Stargell.

Against Wayne Twitchell on June 10, 1972, Aaron surpassed Willie Mays on the all-time list with 649 home runs.

Despite being 39 years old in 1973 and only playing in 120 games, Aaron turned in another 40-home run campaign. On July 21, he hit his 700th career home run off Ken Brett. On Sept. 29, he hit his 40th home run of the season, the 713th of his career, to place him one behind Babe Ruth for the all-time record. By hitting 40 home runs, he joined Darrell Evans and Davey Johnson as the first three players to hit 40 or more home runs in a season for the same team. Aaron ended the year with a .301 batting average, 40 home runs, 96 RBI and a .402 OBP.

During that off-season Aaron was bombarded by racist messages and threats on his life from people who didn't want to see an African-American break the most hallowed record in sports. The threats were so prevalent that Aaron feared for his life.

Opening Day of 1974 against the Cincinnati Reds' Jack Billingham in the first inning, Aaron tied Babe Ruth with his 714th career home run. As Aaron rounded the bases and was about to touch home, Reds catcher Johnny Bench extended his hand to congratulate him.

Four days later, on April 8, 1974, against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Aaron had another chance to celebrate. In the bottom of the fourth inning against Al Downing, Aaron launched one over the left field fence in Atlanta to send the crowd of over 55,000 into pandemonium. Two random fans ran onto the field and escorted Aaron from second base to third.

On October 2, 1974, Aaron hit his 733rd and final home run as a Brave off Rawly Eastwick of the Reds. One month later on Nov. 2, he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for Roger Alexander and Dave May, able to end his career in the city where he started it all. Age and injuries were catching up to Aaron. He had only 382 at bats and recorded his lowest batting average of his career at .268 in 1974.

Milwaukee Brewers (1974-76)

On May 1, 1975, Aaron became Major League Baseball's all-time RBI leader when he knocked in his 2,212th run.

Over Aaron's final two seasons he hit 22 home runs and had 95 RBI in 222 games. On July 20, 1976, Aaron hit his 755th and final home run off of the Angels pitcher Dick Drago.

Post-playing Career

After playing Aaron returned to the Braves to serve as vice president of player development. In 1989 the Atlanta Braves named him senior vice president of the club and assistant to the president.

He also had a successful line of auto dealerships.

Legacy

Throughout his career Aaron openly spoke out for racial equality in baseball, not just on the field but in the front office. "On the field, Blacks have been able to be super giants. But, once our playing days are over, this is the end of it and we go back to the back of the bus again," said Aaron in reference to a lack of black managers and black front office personnel.

Aaron retired as the all-time home run leader with 755. He also holds the record for the most career RBI (2,297), extra base hits (1,477) and total bases (6,856). He ranks second in at-bats (12,364) and intentional walks (293) and is third all-time in hits (3,771) and fourth all-time in total runs (2,174). He hit .300 or better in 14 seasons, hit 40 or more home runs eight times and hit 20 or more home runs in 20 consecutive seasons.

In 1982 he was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. His 97.8 percent "yes" votes on all ballots cast was the second most at the time, behind only Ty Cobb in 1936.

On February 5, 1999, Major League Baseball announced the creation of the Hank Aaron Award on the 25th anniversary of Aaron breaking Ruth's record. The award is presented annually to the best hitter in the American and National leagues.

In 1999 he was named to Major League Baseball's "All-Century Team."

In 2002 he was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.