Hank Aaron: The Making of a Baseball Legend Print E-mail
Written by Jim Rednour   
Monday, 31 August 2009

Most baseball fans know Hammerin’ Hank Aaron as the man who broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, hit a total of 755 career round-trippers, and reigned as the all-time home run king for the next three decades before being surpassed by Barry Bonds on August 7, 2007.

But few realize that Henry (Hank) Aaron was almost entirely self-trained, and batted cross-handed when he was a young player because “no one had told him not to.”

When he wasn’t going to school or playing baseball, Aaron worked hauling ice – heavy labor that he credited for developing his wrists…the key to his batting power and longevity.
In his junior year he transferred out of a segregated high school to attend the Allen Institute in Mobile, which had an organized baseball program, where his rare talents and determination first displayed themselves.

He played on amateur and semi-pro teams like the Pritchett Athletics and the Mobile Black Bears, where he began to make a name for himself.  Already known as a hard-hitting infielder, the 17-year-old Aaron was playing semi-professional baseball in the summer of 1951 when the owner of the Indianapolis Clowns, part of the professional Negro American League, signed him as the Clown's shortstop for the 1952 season.

Aaron's sensational hitting with the Clowns prompted a Boston Braves scout to purchase his contract and he was assigned to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, in the minor Northern League (where coaching corrected his batting style), Aaron batted .336 and won the league's rookie-of-the-year award.

His defensive play, however, was less than stellar.  As a result of numerous errors at shortstop and second base, he was moved to the outfield where he seemed out of place and uncomfortable.  Young Henry’s lack of organized instruction nearly ended his brilliant career before it even started.  The Braves dispatched to a winter-league team in Puerto Rico after the 1953 season, where he learned baseball’s fundamentals and polished his approach at the plate.  The following year the rapidly maturing Aaron made his major league debut and within three years was leading the National League with 200 hits and a .328 batting average. 

Henry Aaron Facts:

The photo on Aaron's 1957 Topps baseball card was accidentally reversed, so it shows Hank hitting left-handed; leading some to speculate that he might have been a switch-hitter during the early days of his career. 

Aaron's 755 homers came off 310 different pitchers. Don Drysdale was his most frequent victim (17). Aaron hit his most homers in the first inning (124) and July was his most productive month (152).

Exactly 400 homers were solo shots. Only once did he hit three homers in a game, in San Francisco on June 21, 1959.

Aaron's 1,000th hit was a single off Koufax in 1959. At 25, he was the second youngest to reach that plateau.

In 1963, Aaron was a 30-30 man, with 44 homers and a career-high 31 steals. He finished with 240 thefts in his career.

After the Braves clinched the N.L. West in 1969, Aaron celebrated with his teammates. Somehow, he got home, but he didn't have a key. With the door locked, he tried breaking in through a window, and severely gashed his hand. Despite the injury, he batted .357 with 3 homers and 7 RBI in 14 at-bats.

Henry’s younger brother Tommie Aaron played with him on the Braves in parts of seven seasons (1962-1971).  Although he hit only 13 home runs, he enjoyed spending so much time with his brother…and became one-half of the answer to great sports trivia question as the Aaron brothers combined to hit the most combined home runs by siblings: 768.

Hank also combined with teammate and a fellow 500 HRC member Eddie Mathews to hit the most homers as teammates (863) as he and “Steady Eddie” became the only teammates to hit 400 homers (442 for Hank, 421 for Eddie).

Hank appeared in an early '70s Wheaties commercial in which he had trouble fielding balls and batting because he didn't eat the cereal.

In 1972, Walter Cronkite announced Aaron had become the highest paid player in baseball when he signed a three-year contract for $200,000 a season.

30/30 club - 44 homers and 31 steals in 1963 (third man to enter the club)

In 1982, he came within nine votes (out of 415) of being the first player to be unanimously elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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