Hammerin’ Hank Aaron was a truly great baseball player. He dominated the game for more than twenty years, inspiring others with his professionalism and dedication. Off the field of play he was a humble man who worked tirelessly to improve the lives of his fellow humans. He was loved by teammates, fans and baseball enthusiasts everywhere.
Learn more of the life of this sporting icon by watching this video. Today, we will look back at his story and marvel at his accomplishments.
Hank Aaron’s early life
Hank was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1934. He was a part of a big family of eight kids. His family was poor and could not afford luxuries. Hank loved baseball from an early age and had to improvise baseball equipment from whatever material he could find. Sticks and bottle caps replaced bats and balls.
In 1949 at the age of 15 he was given a try-out with the Brooklyn Dodgers, but did not make the team. He continued his education, and then signed up to play locally for the Mobile Black Bears, an African-American team. Hank played third-base and outfield during this time, and was a cross-handed power hitter. He played for $3 per game, which he considered to be decent pay.
In 1951 a baseball scout named Ed Scott spotted Hank and signed him up to the Indianapolis Clowns, who played in the Negro American League. Hank’s superb play came to the notice of both the New York Giants and the Boston Braves. Hank chose to sign with the Braves as they were offering $50 per month more than the Giants.
Northern League, The Eau Clair Bears
The Braves ran a farm team in the Northern League called the Eau Clair Bears. A farm team is a team where young and less experienced players can develop before moving up to play for the parent team. Many Major League Teams run farm teams at different levels, and the Eau Clair Bears were a Class C team. His one season with them made Hank realize changes were needed in his play. He dropped cross-handed hitting in favor of the standard technique. His ball play improved immensely and he was named Rookie of the Year.
The following season, Hank was promoted. He joined the Class A Jacksonville Braves in the South Atlantic League. This was a racially integrated team playing in the South. With Jim Crow laws prevailing, Hank met with both the effects of racial segregation and racially-inspired abuse. The manager of the Jacksonville Braves was the great Ben Geraghty. He took Hank under his wing, and years later, Hank credited Geraghty with making him the star player he became.
Major League Baseball
In 1954 Hank got the opportunity to prove himself in a Major League game. When Milwaukee Braves’ Bobby Thomson broke his ankle in a training game, Hank was called up to replace him. During the game, he played left field and ended up hitting a home run. He did so well that he was given a major league contract and took the number 5. Later in the season Hank broke his own ankle, and when he returned, changed to number 44. This became a lucky number for him.
Hank was at the top of his game for the next twenty years. He started winning awards early on and just amassed more and more as his career progressed.
He gained the nickname Hank during the early years with Milwaukee. And he had always been called Henry by both family, friends and team-mates. By nature he was quiet and rather reserved, and the public relations director of the Braves thought Hank might suggest he was a more approachable character. It did not take long for the name to stick, and shortly after it was added to and became Hammerin’ Hank and Hammer Hank. Even opposing teams got in on the action, creating the nickname Bad Henry because of how challenging it was to play against him. He had the reputation of attacking every ball pitched to him, however difficult.
World Series In 1957
In 1957 Milwaukee won the World Series, defeating the champion New York Yankees 4 to 3. They failed to repeat the feat the following year, but Hank won his first Gold Glove. He would go on to win two more during his career.
In 1963 Hank almost scooped the Triple Crown. He held 44 home runs and 130 RBIs, both of which led the league. In batting average, though, he only made third place. The next big change in Hank’s playing came in 1965 when the Milwaukee Braves moved down to Atlanta and changed their name to Atlanta Braves.
It was while playing for Atlanta that Hank reached his biggest career milestones. In 1968 he reached his 500th home run in the Braves game against the San Francisco Giants. The following year he got to 537 home runs which took him to third place on the roster of home runs.
1970 saw two more milestones. In May he made his 3,000th hit while playing against the Cincinnati Reds. He also took the record for the most seasons achieving 30 or over home runs. His 600th career home run came in April 1971. In 1972 he knocked Willie Mays off second place in the home runs list and he broke the record for total bases with 6,134. At the end of the season Hank had notched up 673 career home runs, but it was his bases record that made him most proud. He felt it was a reflection of his being a team player.
Babe Ruth held the record for career home runs with 714. Hank was getting close to the record and the media and fans were getting pretty excited. He was receiving so much mail that the Braves had to hire a secretary to assist him wade through it all. In fact, the US Postal Service awarded him a plaque as he had received more mail than anyone other than politicians. Sadly some of the mail was racist hate mail and even included death threats. Hank rose above it all and continued his quest for glory regardless.
The 1973 Season
Despite all the excitement and anticipation the 1973 season ended with Hank one home run short of Babe Ruth’s record. Fans and the media had to wait until the start of the 1974 season to see the record broken. Hank equalled the record in the first game against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati.
The Atlanta Braves wanted to see the record broken in Atlanta and that is just what Hank did. On April 8th 1974 in the Braves game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Hank scored career home run number 715 off pitcher Al Downing. The celebrations erupted immediately with fans invading the pitch and commentators for TV and radio summoning their most eloquent words to describe the event.
At this point in Hank’s story, we will pause for a moment to appreciate the full significance of his achievement. Here at Facts Verse we enjoy bringing you inspiring stories such as Hanks. Don’t forget to like the video and subscribe to Facts Verse for more videos like this.
Hank did not stop there, as he went on to reach 733 career home runs before leaving Atlanta and returning to Milwaukee for a two-year stint with the Milwaukee Brewers. This meant he could play in the American League as a designated hitter and not play in the field.
Babe Ruth also held the RBI record, which Hank broke in 1975. He also played his last All-Star game in 1975, twenty years after he played in his first. In the Brewers game against the California Angels on July 20th 1976 Hank hit his 755th career home run. This was his last home run and the record stood until 2007 when it was broken by Barry Bonds.
After retirement as a player
The 1976 season was Hank’s last as a player. He became an executive with the Atlanta Braves, rising to vice president, and so became one of the very first players from an ethnic minority background to reach high-level management in baseball.
Also, she joined Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) in 1980 and also took the role of vice president for business development with The Airport Network. He published an autobiography I Had a Hammer in 1990.
Hank developed a thriving business empire during his retirement from playing. He founded the Hank Aaron Automotive Group which held dealerships for Toyota, Land Rover, Mini, Honda and Hyundai across Georgia. Also, he owned Hank Aaron BMW in Union City Georgia. He also owned a chain of restaurants numbering some 30 outlets across the US.
Honors and Awards
Hank Aaron received many honors during his lifetime. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. In 1988 his time playing with Milwaukee and the Eau Clair Bears was honored by the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame.
A section of highway in Atlanta has been named after him and in Mobile, Alabama, the Hank Aaron Stadium hosts the Mobile Bay Bears baseball team. In Milwaukee, a trail alongside the Menomonee River has been named the Hank Aaron State Trail.
Statues of Hank stand outside Turner Field in Atlanta and Miller Park in Milwaukee – recently this has been renamed American Family Park. Eau Clair in Wisconsin boasts a statue of Hank as an eighteen year old when he played as a shortstop for the Eau Clair Bears.
In 2001, President Bill Clinton awarded Hank the Presidential Citizens Medal, and a year later President George W Bush honored him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Princeton University honored Hank in 2011 with a honorary doctorate in Humanities. In 2015 Hank received the inaugural Portrait of a Nation prize. This award is awarded by the National Portrait Gallery and recognizes achievement is a variety of public spheres including civil rights, and sport.
Just to complete Hank’s list of honors we must add that in 2016 Emperor Akihito of Japan honored him with The Order of the Rising Sun.
Recently, on January 5th 2021, Hank was given the Covid-19 vaccination. He allowed the procedure to be televised to encourage other African-Americans to have the injection. Sadly just a few weeks later, he passed during his sleep on January 22, 2021. He was just two weeks away from his 87th birthday.
Hank Aaron was certainly a great baseball player, with a more than twenty year record of high achievement. He broke records, stood up to racism and all the while affected a humble and courteous manner. He lived a distinguished and successful life and has inspired generations of young baseball players.
Facts Verse is delighted to produce this video as homage to his remarkable life. Please let us know what you remember most of Hank Aaron’s career by leaving us a comment! And if you enjoyed this video, be sure to click the like button and subscribe to Facts Verse for more videos like this.