Position: Outfielder
Teams: Milwaukee Braves 1954-1965; Atlanta Braves 1966-1974;
Milwaukee Brewers 1975-1976

The Burden of
the Home Run Record
When Hank Aaron was in the process of breaking Babe Ruth's major-league career home run record in 1974, he involuntarily became a lightning rod for intolerance. To millions of fans, Aaron's achievement was a moment to savor.

Unfortunately, to some this same moment was an affront, both because of Aaron's race and the fact that he was now surpassing the record of America's most beloved sports hero. Although Aaron made it clear to the public that he sincerely believed no one could replace the Babe, he was still viewed in some quarters as a villain.

At the time, talk of such treatment was kept to a minimum. In ensuing years, Aaron hasn't been reticent in describing how he and his family received many racially motivated death threats, abusive phone messages, and stacks of hate mail. Many of the letters and calls were investigated by the FBI, and the slugger was assigned a police escort. Never has an athlete endured more hatred as the result of breaking a record.

On April 23, 1954, Hank Aaron hit the first of his 755 major-league home runs -- more than any other baseball player in history at that time, and now second only to Barry Bonds.

Henry Louis Aaron (born in 1934) grew up one of eight children in Mobile, Alabama. He used to haul 25-pound blocks of ice as a child, and he learned baseball by hitting bottle caps with a broomstick. He started playing semipro ball in Mobile at age 16. By 1951, the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues signed him as a shortstop. He was a cross-handed hitter for a while but switched to a conventional grip on a scout's advice and hit two home runs in his first game with the new grip.

The Braves signed Aaron in 1952 and sent him to Eau Claire of the Northwest League, where he batted .336. In 1953, he was one of three players to integrate the South Atlantic League. He led the circuit with a .362 batting average, 125 RBI, and 115 runs scored. When Bobby Thomson, the Braves' left fielder, broke his ankle early in 1954, Hank found himself with a job in Milwaukee.

Aaron endured the bigotry and segregation of the major leagues at that time with poise and silence. In his early years in the majors, he was an enigma to most players and fans. He let his bat do the talking for many years, and only gradually did his image evolve from that of a hitting machine to an intelligent, forceful man who could achieve seemingly impossible goals.

Hank's all-around game was second to none. He became one of the top outfielders in the game after coming up as an infielder. He was consistent, careful, and deadly. His quick wrists were the stuff of legend. He led the NL with a .328 batting average in 1956.

In 1957, he won the NL MVP Award with a .322 batting average, 44 home runs, and 132 RBI. The Braves won the pennant that year, and then went on to defeat a powerful Yankee team in the World Series. Hank hit .393 with three home runs in the seven games.

Although the Braves remained a strong team for many years, it was to be Aaron's only world championship. The Yankees repaid the Braves in the 1958 Series, although Aaron hit .333 in the Series.

The Braves moved to Atlanta from Milwaukee in 1966, and Aaron, who had been succeeding for years in one of the very worst parks for hitters in baseball, was granted a reprieve; Fulton County Stadium proved to be a great hitter's park. He hit 245 home runs after turning 35 years old, a record. He hit .357 with three homers in the 1969 National League Championship Series, the only other postseason appearance of his long career.

Hank Aaron
In 1954, Hank Aaron hit the first of his 755 major-league home runs.

On April 8, 1974, Aaron broke Babe Ruth's lifetime home run record. Racism and fans' misguided reverence for the Babe added to the difficulty of that monumental task. Always a quiet, serious professional, Henry withstood the burden and scrutiny of an all-out media assault with cool and restraint. "Thank God it's over," he said after the record-breaking game.

Aaron won a record eight total-bases titles en route to the all-time record of 6,856 total bases. He slugged over .500 18 times, and batted .300 14 times. He scored 100 runs in 13 straight seasons and 15 times in all. He totaled an all-time-best 2,297 runs batted in. He hit 30 or more homers in 15 seasons.

When he retired, he had played in more games and had more at bats than any player in history, and he had taken all those swings as perhaps the greatest right-handed hitter in history. Pitcher Curt Simmons said, "Throwing a fastball by Henry Aaron is like trying to sneak sunrise past a rooster." Aaron was inducted in 1982.

Here are Hank Aaron's major league totals:

BA

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

.305

3,298

12,364

2,174

3,771

624

98

755

2,297

240

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