When putting together little articles, I usually ask myself two questions. First, what have we learned over the years that we’ve probably forgotten? And second, are there things we never learned that might supplement the stuff we did? I say “usually” because that’s my normal train of thought. But it’s not my only train of thought. Sometimes, I just write about historical stuff that I find interesting, and hope you’ll tag along and enjoy it with me.
Like today, for instance. Let’s talk about Henry Aaron. He might not have the historical significance of, say, a George Washington (yesterday’s subject) or a Richard Henry Lee. But if you run in baseball circles, “Hammerin’ Hank” is of tremendous importance.
Hank’s name is synonymous with the “longball”, the “tater”, and the “round-tripper”. All of which are baseball-speak for homeruns. His 755 were, up until 2007, the most in baseball history. But homeruns weren’t the only accomplishment in his storied 22-year career. The guy could hit. Only two players, Pete Rose and Ty Cobb, have more total hits than his 3,771. Only nine players have more doubles. And nobody has driven in more runners than Aaron, who plated 2,297 in his years with the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves (along with his final days back in Milwaukee in a Brewers uniform).
But it was his power that got the most recognition, particularly as the major homerun milestones came and went. As the country (and the world) celebrated the first man on the moon in 1969, Aaron hit his 537th moonshot to pass Mickey Mantle. His 600th came two years later, with his 700th coming in 1973 at age 39.
Though Hank played his best baseball a century after the end of slavery, the racist views of some began to show as the magic number of 714 (the record held by Babe Ruth – a white man) approached. Hate mail, phone calls, and death threats plagued Henry, his family, and even those covering him thoughout the 1973 season and subsequent winter.
But Hank Aaron persevered and, on April 8, 1974, made homer history with his 715th. If you’re a baseball fan, you have seen hundreds of times the clip of Aaron circling the bases with the two young guys that ran out of the stands to celebrate with him. Aaron would finish his career with 755 homeruns, a number thought to be insurmountable…
…until 2007, when Barry Bonds hit #756. Of course, Barry’s on-the-field prowess has now been matched by his off-the-field problems. More and more evidence seems to indicate his output was not just the result of his incredible talent, but rather aided by illegal, performance-enhancing drugs. It’s possible that, if convicted, Barry could see at least some of his numbers nullified. But regardless, many still consider Aaron the legitimate homerun king.
Born in the midst of the Great Depression on February 5, 1934 and raised in poverty in a still-segregated South, Henry Aaron would rise to become a legendary superstar, a symbol of all that is good about the game of baseball, and a class act.
Happy Birthday, Hank Aaron!!