Remembering Hank Aaron

 This post is about my memories of Henry Louis "Hank" Aaron, during my favorite era of baseball. centerfieldmaz remembers:

I was a kid when Hank Aaron broke the All Time HR Record in 1974. He was still one of baseballs best players, he had hit 40 HRs in 1973 at the age of 39. I always said that he was probably the most productive player of anyone after the age of 35 (not in the steroid era). And to me Hank Aaron is still the all time HR king. Hank Aaron was not only the all time HR king, but one of the best hitters & all around players of all time. 

In those days, I got to see Willie Mays, at the end of his career too. Since he was a Met & former New York Giant, was always more popular with me. Willie was a better outfielder & base runner than Aaron. 

Henry Aaron, ended the 1973 season needing two more HRs to break Babe Ruth's all time record. The anticipation for the next season to start, so Aaron could do that, seemed like a lifetime for MLB. 

Aaron threw out a ceremonial first pitch at the 1973 World Series between the Mets & A's. He was
a special guest in the Commissioners box, as Bowie Kuhn, always an Aaron supporter, knew how important Hank was to baseball & its future.

Hank was interviewed on the "Baseball World of Joe Garagiola" & by everyone all winter long. The baseball magazines all featured articles on him & there were always stories in the newspapers & in TV. 

But, there were the haters, those against him because he was black. Plus those against him, because they loved Babe Ruth's legacy so much, they didn't want him to break the record. There were death threats & fears that his life could even be in danger while on the field. Those dark realities & the incredible pressures that came with the record, must have been unbearable at times for Aaron. 

 It's sad that a good, humble guy like Aaron, had to go through any grief, in his life. Especially at a time when he was chasing such a milestone & should have enjoyed the moments. 

But Aaron just kept going out there, doing his job with a smile, giving it everything he had &
making the fans happy. He was popular & respected by to so many. He was good for the game of baseball & the history of the game.

He played the game with respect & never showed anyone up or mouthed off, very unlike the players of today. But even more importantly, besides being a great player, he was a good family man & true gentleman.

In those days of the early 1970's Hank Aaron was a super star & a legend to a kid like me. I can remember the Oh Henry candy bar, had commercials featuring him hitting a HR & the crowd would yell " Oh Henry!" The candy bar wasn't originally named after him & had been out since 1920. 

I personally had the Hank Aaron pitch back, which was a net attached to a metal frame. You threw the ball at it & it came back to you as hard as you had thrown it. Awesome for a baseball kid of the early 1970's. 

Baseball cards were everything to me then & the 1974 Topps featured Hank Aaron specials, which was a montage of four Aaron cards from different Topps cards through out his career.
What a big deal it was to get those Aaron specials when you opened the pack.

When the 1974 baseball season started, the network would have a special broadcast to show the game where Aaron would tie & break the record. In those days you only had local baseball games & a game of the week, on Saturday, so this was big. 

Aaron wasted no time, when the 1974 season began. In his first at bat on Opening Day, he hit a three run HR off Jack Billingham of the Reds in Cincinnati. Four days later, on Monday April 8th, 1974 in Atlanta,  Hank Aaron broke the all time HR record.

 I can remember watching the game on TV. Off of my memory & baseball knowledge I can say, he hit the HR at Fulton County Stadium, in his second at bat, off the LA Dodgers pitcher, Al Downing. 

The ball went over the left field fence into the Braves bullpen. I also know the answer to the old
trivia question- Who caught the HR? It was Braves pitcher, Tom House in the Atlanta bullpen!

Aaron was mobbed at home plate by his team mates & some fans. His parents came running out & his mother gave him a big hug as the Atlanta fans gave him a standing ovation. It was a big moment in history in many ways.

Some incredible stats on Hank Aaron read:  He is second all time in HRs with 755. First in a non steroid world. He never hit as many as 50 HRs in a season, but hit 40 or more HRs eight times & 30 plus HRs 15 times. 

He led the league in HRs & RBIs four times each. Aaron drove in 100 or more runs eleven times. Although he ranks second all time in HRs (755) he is first in RBIs (2297).

Aaron was not only a slugger but, he was an all around hitter which many people overlook. 

The man is third all time in hits with 3771 & won two batting titles. He had three seasons where he had 200 or more hits & four more of 190 plus hits. He is first, all time in total bases (6856) & extra base hits (1477). He is fourth all time in runs scored (2174) & sac flies (121).

He was a lifetime .305 hitter with 292 intentional base on balls (4th all time) 1402 walks (27th all time) 2294 singles (14th all time). He had 624 doubles (133th all time) 98 triples (166th all time)  & a .555 slugging % (20th all time). He never struck out more than 97 times in a season. In 12364 at bats he struck out just 1294 times.

Aaron appeared in 25 All Star Games (most all time), won one MVP Award, and three Gold Gloves in the outfield. He was a fine outfielder & then became a fine first baseman later in his career.

He played 2760 games in the outfield (5th most all time) & 2174 at first base (4th most). Overall the durable Hank Aaron played in 3298 career games (3rd most all time).

In a 23 year career, he played in three postseasons & two World Series. His Milwaukee Braves won the 1957 World Series where Aaron batted .393 (11-28). He hit three HRs & drove in seven runs, with RBI's in four of the seven games. 

He homered in the 4th inning of the Braves classic Game #4 win in Milwaukee. That game was won with the Braves trailing the AL New York team 5-4 in the 9th inning. 

Nippy Jones was hit by a pitch &advanced on a bunt by Red Schoendienst. Bob Grim doubled to tie it & Eddie Mathews hit a walk off HR off reliever Bob Grim. Aaron homered in two other games, the Braves lost.

Hammering Hank Aaron was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. 

He was married twice & has six children.

Hank Aaron passed away on his sleep on January 22nd, 2021 at age 86.


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