|Birth Day:||February 5, 1934|
|Birth Place:||Mobile, United States|
Legendary right fielder known as the Hammer who set an MLB record with 755 career home runs, breaking Babe Ruth's record of 714 in 1974. He was a 25-time All-Star, 4-time National League home run champion, 2-time National League batting champion, and 1-time National League MVP over the course of his 23-year career, which was spent with the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers.
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After learning to play by hitting bottle caps with sticks he found in the street, he led his high school team to the Mobile Negro High School Championship in two consecutive years.
Although he batted cross-handed (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 15, 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 ($99 today), which was a dollar more than he got while on the Athletics.
On November 20, 1951, baseball scout Ed Scott signed Aaron to a contract on behalf of the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League, where he played for three months.
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".
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."
Aaron's first marriage was to Barbara Lucas in 1953. They had five children: Gary, Lary, Dorinda, Gaie and Hank Jr. He divorced Barbara in 1971, and married Billye Suber Williams on November 13, 1973. With his second wife, he had one child, Ceci.
In 1954, Aaron attended 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 13 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.
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 in Milwaukee, Aaron hit a two-run walk-off home run against the St. Louis Cardinals, clinching the pennant for the Braves. After touching home plate he was carried off the field by his teammates. It was the only pennant-clinching walk-off home run in major league history in a non-playoff regular season game. Milwaukee went on to win the World Series against the New York Yankees, the defending champions, 4 games to 3. Aaron did his part by hitting .393 with three homers and seven RBI. On December 15, 1957, his wife Barbara 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.
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.
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. 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. On May 10, 1967, he hit an inside-the-park home run against Jim Bunning in Philadelphia. It was his only inside-the-park home run of his career. 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. 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 career home runs.
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 said his only fear was that he might not live to see the 1974 season.
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, 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, April 4, 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 fence trying to catch it, the ball flew into 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 young 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:
On October 2, 1974, Aaron hit his 733rd home run in his last at bat as a Braves player. He was acquired by the Milwaukee Brewers for Dave May thirty-one days later on November 2. Minor league right-handed pitcher Roger Alexander was sent to the Braves to complete the transaction at the Winter Meetings one month later on December 2. 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 of 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.
Aaron was awarded the Spingarn Medal in 1976, from the NAACP.
In 1977, Hank Aaron received the American Academy of Achievement’s Golden Plate Award.
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.
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 Eau Claire Bears, Milwaukee Braves, and Milwaukee Brewers.
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 Aaron was simply treating Bonds in a similar fashion. In a later interview with Atlanta sportscasting personality Chris Dimino, Aaron made it clear 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:
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, Truist 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.
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.
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.
In July 2000 and again in July 2002, Aaron threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, played at Turner Field and Miller Park, respectively.
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 18-year-old shortstop outside Carson Park in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where he played his first season in the Braves' minor league system.
In 2011, President of Princeton University Shirley M. Tilghman awarded an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree to Hank Aaron.
Aaron lives in the Atlanta area. In July 2013, media reported that his home was burglarized. Jewelry and two BMW vehicles were stolen. The cars were later recovered.
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. In January 2016 Aaron received the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette from Akihito, the Emperor of Japan.
Currently, Hank Aaron is 88 years, 6 months and 13 days old. Hank Aaron will celebrate 89th birthday on a Sunday 5th of February 2023.
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