Henry "Hank" Aaron (1934-2021)
January 22, 2021 8:35 AM   Subscribe

The one time home run king has passed away at the age of 86. One of the last stars to come out of the Negro Leagues, Aaron played a 24 year career with the Braves, famously beating Babe Ruth's career home run record - for which he faced death threats for doing so.

Beyond the home run record which he held until Barry Bonds surpassed him, Aaron set records for both runs batted in and total bases that remain to this day. Primarily active in the 60s and 70s, Aaron was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982, and in 1999 MLB named the top batter award after him.
posted by NoxAeternum (76 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
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posted by synecdoche at 8:44 AM on January 22 [13 favorites]


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posted by LobsterMitten at 8:45 AM on January 22


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posted by ChuraChura at 8:46 AM on January 22


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posted by Halloween Jack at 8:48 AM on January 22


Look at these stats on his baseball-reference page!

All-Star every year from 1955 to 1975
Double-digit homers and steals 9 years in a row. Weirdly, he started running in his 7th year; he had homers before then, but not many steals.
29 homers, 28 steals, and .287 in 1968, the Year Without Offense
40 homers and .301 in 1973, when he was 39
Double digit homers every single year of his career, from 1954 to 1976; 20 years with 20+ homers; 15 years with 30+ homers

Somehow, I think the guy who was the all-time home run king is underrated.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 8:52 AM on January 22 [39 favorites]


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posted by Joey Michaels at 8:52 AM on January 22


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posted by jquinby at 8:54 AM on January 22


Somehow, I think the guy who was the all-time home run king is underrated.

Yep.

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posted by Thorzdad at 8:54 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]


I was in 5th grade in Augusta GA when he broke the record; a few days earlier our teacher had let us watch the day game where he hit home run 714 in his first at bat of the season to tie the record. Very exciting times; I was too young to appreciate the racial background of the event. From all accounts he was a decent guy; he briefly owned a Jaguar dealership here in town, but unfortunately it closed before I got the chance to buy a car from him.
posted by TedW at 8:57 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


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posted by lord_wolf at 9:01 AM on January 22


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posted by thelonius at 9:07 AM on January 22


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posted by oozy rat in a sanitary zoo at 9:10 AM on January 22


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posted by gauche at 9:11 AM on January 22


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posted by Pendragon at 9:12 AM on January 22


The crap school I went to in 2nd grade (because I and many of the kids in my neighborhood desegregated it in 1976 and the white parents didn't want us there) was about a mile away from County Stadium in Milwaukee. During May, whenever there was an afternoon game and Hammerin' Hank hit a homerun, you could hear the cheers from the crowd. For years, I'd thought he'd hit his record-breaking home run at County Stadium, just because of the insanely loud cheering.

I wish I'd gotten to see him play at the stadium, even if he wasn't at his peak.






As an aside, I wonder how MC Hammer feels today, knowing that his nickname comes from his resemblance to Hank as a kid.
posted by droplet at 9:18 AM on January 22 [5 favorites]


It feels like all the other baseball deaths over the last year were just a prelude for this one. The man's impact on the game and society cannot be overstated. One of the most best and most influential players in history. RIP to an absolute legend.
posted by The Notorious SRD at 9:20 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


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posted by Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead at 9:21 AM on January 22


> ...the home run record which he held until Barry Bonds surpassed him...

Aaron’s records won’t need an asterisk.
posted by ardgedee at 9:22 AM on January 22 [13 favorites]


What amazes me is that you think of a home-run champ as a big, hulking, muscly guy. Aaron was 6' 0" and 180 pounds, which is basically a skinny second baseman today. But he reportedly had amazingly strong hands and forearms and great bat speed.

He *averaged* a .307 batting average and 37 home runs every season for 23 years, and that includes some down years after he turned 40. All before steroids and the juiced ball. He was the best.

Also, hoping someone with better skills than me can find the SI story of the two fans who jumped out of the stands and ran with him, congratulating him, when he hit the record-breaking HR. A baseball moment that could never happen today.
posted by martin q blank at 9:24 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]


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posted by pseudophile at 9:24 AM on January 22


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In addition to all the other far more interesting and important things he represents, he was my winning trivia answer more than once.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:25 AM on January 22


the two fans who jumped out of the stands and ran with him, congratulating him, when he hit the record-breaking HR.

Consider that this iconic moment, overtaking Babe Ruth for most career HRs, happened after weeks of death threats to Hank Aaron. Hank kept those death threats to himself, only revealing the letters years later.

So here he is, standing at the plate, fully exposed to tens of thousands of fans, knowing that at least some of them wanted him dead. Screw them-- he hits the record-breaking HR. And as he rounds the bases, some gleeful fans run out on to the field to congratulate him physically in person as he's still on the basepaths.

Hank Aaron was a spectacularly courageous athlete.
posted by mcstayinskool at 9:39 AM on January 22 [10 favorites]




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posted by jim in austin at 9:44 AM on January 22


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posted by JoeXIII007 at 9:46 AM on January 22




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posted by Cris E at 10:05 AM on January 22


A friend posted this memory on Facebook:
When Henry Aaron was chasing Babe Ruth’s home run record, I was nine years old and loved the Braves - after all, my parents were from Georgia and were Atlanta fans, so naturally I was a Braves fan, too.

One day something - I think it was reading about the death threats against him, which I didn’t fully understand but knew were wrong - possessed me to pick up the phone, ask directory assistance for help, and get through to the Braves front office. The very nice lady who answered my call was sad to tell me that Mr. Aaron was not available to talk (I guess I figured he stayed at the stadium ready to talk to fans) but that they would pass on my words of encouragement, and took my name and address.

This was back when people waited until later in the evening to call someone long distance because it was less expensive then, and you didn’t just pick up the phone and do such a thing. But, I did. I have to think that I avoided punishment from my parents because the front office folks sent me a huge media package as well as a baseball signed by Henry Aaron (at which point I mentioned my middle of the day long-distance call).

I wish I still had that baseball, but it disappeared in one of the four moves we made between 1975 and 1976. But, I still have the memories, both of an organization who treated a little boy so nicely, and the player I idolized.

posted by TedW at 10:07 AM on January 22 [18 favorites]


PROPOSAL: Let's dynamite those Confederate assholes off of Stone Mountain and make a Mt. Rushmore of Great Ballplayers. Aaron is choice number one.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:15 AM on January 22 [8 favorites]




In '85 or 86, my uncle and I went to a baseball card show at a small hotel in Louisville. Just before baseball card collecting *really* took off. We both got Hank Aaron's autograph, I can't remember if he charged $5 or $20. Either way, it was cheap. He took time with everyone too. I'm about 95% sure my ball was lost in the flood that also destroyed my cards and comic book collection. There's a small chance it's in a closet at my dad's house, but either way, I have the memory of shaking hands with the guy. And seeing him let people get pictures with him. I was always a much bigger fan of baseball history and baseball statistics than actual baseball games. Hank Aaron was the kind of guy that made you like all of it. 86 is a helluva run.

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Home Run Derby - Hank Aaron vs. Al Kaline
posted by DigDoug at 10:23 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]


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posted by clavdivs at 10:27 AM on January 22


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posted by wicked_sassy at 10:34 AM on January 22


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the human epitome of decency and grace under pressure. i saw him on a braves broadcast this past summer around the time that the BLM protests were in full effect talking about the intersection of race and baseball. and what moved me wasn't what he was saying, but that at age 86 he was still out there, patient as ever, speaking truth.
posted by dudemanlives at 10:47 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


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posted by Gray Duck at 10:57 AM on January 22


One for the ages. .
posted by parmanparman at 11:04 AM on January 22


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posted by Melismata at 11:44 AM on January 22


Somehow, I think the guy who was the all-time home run king is underrated.

If you wiped out every one of Hank Aaron's home runs from the record books he would still have 3,000 career hits and be a Hall of Famer.

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posted by waitingtoderail at 11:47 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


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posted by The Great Big Mulp at 11:50 AM on January 22


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posted by rhizome at 11:52 AM on January 22


David Simon: "Aaron was on 97% of the HOF [Hall of Fame] ballots his first eligible year of induction. I know I am a glass-half-empty kind of guy, but shouldn't we be hunting the 3% down today and beating them with sticks? Or, if dead, digging them up and putting skulls on pikes?"
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:58 AM on January 22 [5 favorites]


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posted by calamari kid at 12:06 PM on January 22


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posted by Freeze Peach at 12:18 PM on January 22




Perhaps apocryphal, but I do like the anecdote that the ball that means most to him is the one from his 755th home run - the one that set the record.
posted by Caxton1476 at 12:31 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


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posted by Cash4Lead at 12:43 PM on January 22


a few days earlier our teacher had let us watch the day game where he hit home run 714 in his first at bat of the season to tie the record

Fun fact: As you mentioned, Hank tied Ruth's record of 714 in his first at bat - and the 4th batter - on Opening Day 1974 at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium. The announcer who called that play was a 31-year old announcer calling his very first MLB game. In fact, the one and only Marty Brennaman, who would go on to call Reds games for 45 years, retiring in 2019 as a Hall of Fame announcer - was hired by the Reds on January 21, 1974, 47 years to the day of Henry Aaron's death.

Hank also hit his first homer as a major leaguer in Cincinnati's Crosley Field in his rookie season of 1954, and his 100th as well in 1957.
posted by thecincinnatikid at 12:44 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


If you could pick: When, in the season, would you want to reach the all-time home run record?

I’d say like May or June. Let the season get going, start like 10 homers away, so you can catch up to the record playing normally, without having constant pressure all off-season but also not worrying about running out of season or anything, and then it’s over and you’re good to go for the rest of the season.

Well, in 1973, when he was 39, Hank Aaron hit 40 homers in 120 games. Great season...except it left him at 713 total, and Babe Ruth had hit 714.

So he had to wait and wait and wait that whole offseason to get another chance at the record.

He tied the record in the very first inning of the first game of the season.
He sat out the second game.
He went 0/3 in the third game.
He hit #715 in the fourth inning in game 4, age 40.
He’d hit a total of 20 homers that season.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 12:52 PM on January 22 [4 favorites]


As a very little boy my grandpa took me to a baseball card show where I had an experience much like DigDoug's above with this giant of life. I'll never forget how enormous he was, how huge and strong and gentle his hands were, and how kind and warm he was to me.

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posted by riverlife at 1:10 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]




OK, that's a shockingly good idea.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:30 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


The Hammers
posted by philip-random at 1:43 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace.

P.S. R.I.P. also to long-time Braves color commentator Don Sutton, who died last Monday night, and Phil Niekro, who died at the end of December.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:06 PM on January 22


And they should have changed the name back in July of last year when Clinton Yates suggested it and they could have given Hank his flowers while he was still here. Yet another entry in the chapter in the Book of Grudges for Liberty Media.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:08 PM on January 22


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Hank Aaron to MLB.com this past summer:
“I’m not able to move around much anymore. But if I could, I’d be out there marching. I’d be right there at the front of the line.”


Hank Aaron was a great ballplayer, but an even better man. A true giant among men. And a gentleman, of course.
posted by AugustWest at 3:26 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]




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posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 3:48 PM on January 22


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posted by Thrakburzug at 3:49 PM on January 22


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posted by bodega at 3:51 PM on January 22


The Root's Michael Harriot on Hank Aaron
Last month, @MLB finally added Negro League records to its official stats, meaning Aaron hit 760 home runs, more RBIs, total bases, & All-Star games than anyone who ever played baseball.

Also, Babe Ruth didn't play against Black players.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:42 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


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posted by NotTheRedBaron at 4:46 PM on January 22


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(I tried a back slash with a dot but that only looked like he was hitting a grounder… and for what he did for baseball, he deserves so much better).
posted by jabo at 5:13 PM on January 22


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posted by kathrynm at 7:49 PM on January 22


Regarding all the hate mail he received while chasing the home run record Aaron said he would save those letters forever - in hopes that he'd live long enough that someday, people otherwise wouldn't believe what the cultural climate was like back then.
posted by Cris E at 11:19 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


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posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 10:35 AM on January 23


Lyme Drop Jr.'s former nanny's dad, an MLB vet, caught the recordbreaking home run ball in the dugout. Said former nanny has fond memories of sitting on Aaron's lap as a kid, says he was memorably kind to her.

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posted by Lyme Drop at 11:38 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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posted by detachd at 3:34 PM on January 23




Five-thirty-eight has an article "Nobody -- and we mean nobody was consistently great like Hank Aaron."

Baseball has had a number of best players who were assholes (Ty Cobb set the standard). Hank Aaron was a great gentleman and a great human being.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:33 AM on January 25 [2 favorites]


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