When he retired from baseball in 1976, Hank Aaron held several important major league records, including most home runs (755), runs batted in (2,297), and times at bat (12,364). Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1974, hitting his 715th homer while with the Atlanta Braves. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982.
Hank Aaron, born in 1934, American baseball player, nicknamed Hammerin’ Hank, whose 755 home runs broke the all-time record previously held by Babe Ruth. Aaron was noted for his remarkable consistency. Although he led the league in home runs only four times, he hit 30 or more four-baggers in a season 15 times. During his 23-year career the right-handed slugger set more than ten major league records, including most home runs, runs batted in (RBIs), extra-base hits, and total bases.
Henry Louis Aaron was born in Mobile, Alabama. As a youngster he honed his skills in a recreational softball league, and at age 15 he was the starting shortstop for the Mobile Black Bears, a semiprofessional baseball team. During a 1951 game against the Indianapolis Clowns, a professional Negro League team, Aaron hit two singles and a double, drawing the attention of the Clowns owner, Syd Pollock. Pollock wanted to sign Aaron to a contract immediately, but Aaron’s mother wanted the young ballplayer to attend college instead. A deal was struck when Aaron agreed to graduate from Josephine Allen Institute, a private high school in Mobile, before joining the team. Aaron played only briefly for the Clowns. Scouts from several major league teams quickly took interest in the young player, and he signed with the Milwaukee Braves in 1952. (The Braves moved to Atlanta, Georgia, in 1966.)
The Braves sent Aaron to play in the minor leagues. He spent a year in the Class C Northern League before he was promoted to the Class A South Atlantic League for the 1953 season. Aaron and two other African Americans were the first black players admitted to the league. In 1953 Aaron, still playing shortstop, led the league with a .362 batting average, 125 RBIs, 115 runs scored, and 208 hits while earning the league’s most valuable player (MVP) award. He then spent the winter in the Puerto Rican league, where he fine-tuned his batting skills and learned to play in the outfield.
Aaron made his major league debut on opening day in 1954. Playing in the outfield and batting .280, the 20-year-old made immediate contributions to the Braves. Late in the season, however, Aaron broke his ankle while sliding into third base. He recovered by the following season, and his average jumped to .314. His batting skills improved over the next few seasons. In 1956 Aaron won the National League (NL) batting title with a .328 average and led the league in hits (200) and doubles (34). The Braves’ pennant hopes, however, were dashed on the last day of the season, as the Dodgers won the NL flag by one game. The next year Aaron earned the NL's MVP award after batting .322, leading the league with 44 home runs, and helping to power the Braves to a World Series title.
Over the next 16 seasons Aaron quietly neared Ruth’s record. He posted 40 or more home runs seven more times, and he batted .300 or higher 11 more times, reaching a league-leading .355 in 1959. Aaron’s slugging often overshadowed his graceful play in right field, for which he received three Gold Glove Awards (1958, 1959, 1960).
Aaron hit home run number 713 late in 1973, leaving him to wait out the off-season one short of Ruth’s mark. The winter was difficult. Death threats and hate mail that Aaron had begun receiving in 1972 intensified, especially from bigots who resented the fact that an African American was about to claim one of baseball’s premier records. By the start of the 1974 season, Aaron’s family, including his children in college, were placed under police protection. Aaron quickly responded when the season began. He hit home run number 714 on April 4th—on his first swing of the season. Four days later, on April 8, 1974, Hammerin’ Hank hit his 715th home run over the left field wall in Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium, taking sole possession of the career home run record.
Aaron returned to Milwaukee after the 1974 season, when the Braves traded him to the Brewers, an American League team. He was happy to return to the city of his major league debut, and he received a warm welcome. In 1975 he broke Ruth’s career RBI record. When Aaron retired after the 1976 season, he held many career records, including most home runs (755), runs batted in (2,297), total bases (6,856), extra-base hits (1,477), and times at bat (12,364). After retiring, Aaron worked as an executive with the Atlanta Braves and was involved in a number of charitable organizations. His many honors and awards include 24 All-Star Game appearances and election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982.
In 1999—the 25th anniversary of Aaron breaking Ruth’s record—Major League Baseball announced the Hank Aaron Award, given annually to the best overall hitter in each league. In 2002 Aaron received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
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