Spotlight on Hank Aaron: One of the Greatest Baseball Players of All Time
Born Henry Louis Aaron on February 5, 1934, Hank Aaron is a retired Major League Baseball player. He is widely regarded as one of the most talented players in baseball history.
From his early years to his outstanding sporting achievements, we look at the life of Hank Aaron, and the experiences that molded one of America’s greatest baseball players.
Hank Aaron grew up in Mobile, Alabama as one of eight siblings. Hank’s brother, Tommie Aaron, was also a Major League player. The Aaron family lived in a poor black neighborhood, known locally as “Down the Bay.” Hank Aaron’s parents were Estrella and Herbert Aaron. His father earned a living as a dry dock boilermaker’s assistant and a tavern owner.
When Hank Aaron was 8 years old, his family moved to Toulminville, Alabama. It was while living in this middle-class community that Aaron developed a strong affinity for baseball and football. He increasingly focused on sports rather than other aspects of his studies. Aaron spent his freshman and sophomore years at Central High School, Mobile, where he excelled at both baseball and football.
Aaron started his career with the Indianapolis Clowns in 1951 when he was just 18 years old. Established in 1930, the Indianapolis Clowns professional baseball team played in the Negro American League. They were the last team in the league to disband, continuing to play exhibition games right up to the 1980s. The team was also the first professional baseball team in America to hire a female player.
Hank Aaron was acquired by the Milwaukee Braves in 1952. The deal was reportedly worth $10,000. He debuted for the Milwaukee Braves at the age of 20, stepping in when a training injury held back another outfielder. Aaron gave an impressive performance, earning recognition as Rookie of the Year in his first season with the team.
During a solid first year, Hank Aaron hit 13 home runs, achieving a .280 batting average. Powering through the 1955 season, Aaron demonstrated a blend of run production (106 RBIs), power (27 home runs), and average (.328) that came to define his lengthy career. Hank Aaron played most of his games as a right fielder. He did occasionally appear in other infield and outfield positions, however, playing his last two seasons as a designated hitter.
Aaron claimed his first batting title in 1956. He registered an outstanding season in 1957, hitting 44 home runs to claim a Triple Crown, knocking in another 132, and achieving a .322 batting average. Aaron was recognized as Most Valuable Player by the National League in the same season.
In September 1957, Aaron demonstrated his sporting prowess at a pivotal moment for the Milwaukee Braves. He helped propel the team into the World Series, where Aaron led the Braves to win over the New York Yankees in 7 games.
Hank Aaron broke the 714 home-run record established by Babe Ruth. By the time he retired from Baseball, Hank Aaron finished his career having set numerous Major League records, including amassing 755 home runs. Aaron is honored alongside other Major League icons in the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1999, Major League Baseball created an annual award in his honor to recognize each league’s top hitter.
By 1959, Hank Aaron was earning around $30,000 a year. The game was still years away from the massive multimillion-dollar deals entered into by players today. However, Hank Aaron not only claimed a $30,000 paycheck, he effectively doubled that sum through endorsements.
Over the course of the next 15 years, he averaged between 30 and 40 home runs annually. At 39 years old, Hank Aaron was still a force to be reckoned with, hitting 40 home runs to finish the 1973 season. By that time, he had amassed a career total of 713, just one home run behind baseball legend, Babe Ruth. Aaron reached the milestone set by Ruth the following year, at Cincinnati, Ohio on Opening Day.
On April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run, setting a new record in front of 50,000 fans. When he crossed home plate, Hank Aaron was greeted by his parents, as well as a firework display and live band. At the conclusion of his record-breaking 1974 season, Aaron had hit a total of 20 home runs.
Retirement from Baseball
Hank Aaron, also known as ‘Hammerin’ Hank,’ retired from professional baseball on October 3, 1976, playing his final match for the Milwaukee Brewers.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Hank Aaron in 1982, his first year of eligibility, when he accumulated an impressive 97.8 percent of the ballots. This placed him second only to baseball icon, Ty Cobb, who took 98.2 percent of the vote in the inaugural election.
In 2011, Hank Aaron was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree by Shirley M. Tightman, who was then President of Princeton University.