Is it possible to underrate the original Home Run King”? It is, and it used to happen regularly where I’m from. Growing up in New York, Long Island to be exact, Willie, Mickey, and The Duke were the standard of outfield greatness, and they wrote that song about the trio. Does that mean Hank Aaron would have been ranked fourth? No, it means Mays vs. Aaron was a regular debate around my parts.
I saw some of Hammerin’ Hank’s career. What always struck me about him was his bat speed and wrist strength. He did play for a short time in the Negro Leagues (Indianapolis Clowns in 1952) and then the minor leagues after the Milwaukee Braves signed him. At that time, he batted cross-handed but it was fixed before he hit the big leagues.
I was born in 1963, so my dad filled in a lot of the early blanks about Aaron. I did first watch him in 1968 or 1969 when the Braves lost to the Mets in the NLCS. Every year after that until he left the game after the 1976 season while playing for the Milwaukee Brewers, the city where it all began for him.
Aaron was a run producer of the highest order. He hit a ton of home runs, but nobody was calling him the best home run hitter ever until it became obvious he could beat Babe Ruth’s record. As we’ve all heard, he never hit 50 home runs in a season.
Aaron had 11 seasons of 100 RBI or more, the last one at the age of 37 where he hit 47 homers. His 2,297 RBI is a record that shouldn’t be broken, the same as his 755 home runs, but we all saw how that was broken so based on that, anything is possible.
His hardware includes one World Series ring, one MVP, two batting titles (’56 and ’59), 1970 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award, and three gold gloves (’58, ’59, and ’60) and 25 All-Star Games.
Aaron is the career leader for RBI with 2,297 and total bases with 6,856.
Aaron had a 223-hit season. Mike Trout hasn’t hit 200 as of yet. One season Aaron stole 240 bases in his career. That should surprise you if you never saw him play. He played in 3,298 games; he was the Gordie Howe of his sport.
I saw Aaron break the record like millions of people did on an early season national broadcast on NBC. My grandfather, Milton Goldstein, was a huge baseball fan and invited us over to watch this with him. My brother and I were huge baseball fans, as well as my parents. Hank didn’t disappoint, and it remains as one of my best childhood memories of my grandfather. He died not too long after that.
Aaron will be remembered as a civil rights activist, a gentleman, a hero to millions, and the greatest home run hitter of his generation. Even the staunchest Barry Bonds supporters can’t argue against that.