Henry Louis Aaron
Teams: Indianapolis Clowns (1952), minor leagues (1952-1953), major leagues (1954-1976)
Height: 6' 0'' Weight: 180
Born: February 5, 1934, Mobile, Alabama
In 1952, as a skinny, crosshanded-batting eighteen-year-old, the future home run king played shortstop for the Negro American League's Indianapolis Clowns under manager Buster Haywood for about three months. Aaron had been signed in April for $200 per month by Bunny Downs, the Clowns' business manager, after being discovered the previous season (1951) while playing with the semi-pro Mobile Black Bears in an exhibition game against the Clowns. During the time he was with the Clowns, he was scouted by both the New York Giants and the Boston Braves and, although the Giants were unimpressed, the Braves bought his contract from Clowns' owner Syd Pollock.
The fledgling shortstop finished the season at Eau Claire in the Northern League, hitting .336 with nine home runs in the remaining 87 games. The following season he was switched to second base at Jacksonville in the Sally League, and he responded by leading the league in almost every category except home runs. His .362 batting average topped the league, as did his hits (208), runs (115), RBIs (125), doubles (36), putouts (330), assists (310), and errors (36). He also contributed 14 triples and 22 homers.
The next season he made the transition to the major leagues with the Milwaukee Braves, was shifted to the outfield, and hit 13 home runs. The rest is history. Twenty-three years later he retired as the all time home run king with 755 homers and a lifetime .305 batting average. Along the way he lead the league in home runs (1957, 1963, 1966-1967) and in RBIs (1957, 1960, 1963, 1966) four times each, won three Gold Gloves (1958-1960) and two batting titles (1956, 1959), was selected to the All Star team (1954-1976), and voted the National League's MVP (1957). He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982 to cap an illustrious career.
Baseball Career Highlights:
When the Indianapolis Clowns saw the 17-year old Aaron playing with the semi-pro Mobile Black Bears, they were so impressed that they wanted him to play with their team. The next year, the Clowns signed him for $200 a month. In 1952, the only year he played in the Negro Leagues, he lead the Negro American League with a .467 average.
Scouted by several major league teams, he signed with the Milwaukee Braves in 1952. He spent a year in the minors before making his major league debut on opening day in 1954. In 1956 Aaron won the National League (NL) batting title with a .328 average and led the league in hits (200) and doubles (34). Batting.332 in 1957, Aaron earned the NL's MVP award, led the league with 44 home runs, and helped the Braves win the World Series title.
Posting 40 or more home runs for several seasons, Aaron gracefully approached Babe Ruth's home run record. Aaron hit home run number 713 late in 1973. Aaron said, "For two years, I had to live in a hotel, my children had to go to private schools and my entire family was split up because people were mad that I was going to break the record." With the first swing of the season on April 4, he hit his 714th home run. 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, breaking Ruth's record.
Aaron, who ended his 23 year career with 755 home runs, said he is not bitter but disappointed about what he and other African American athletes had to endure. After retiring, Aaron worked as the Atlanta Braves' director of player development and is currently a vice president. Now as the founder of "Chasing The Dream Foundation," Aaron is working with Major League Baseball to ensure that future African American athletes will not have to endure what he did to earn the title of "home run king." Aaron was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982.
Awards, Honors, Titles, Championships,
• National League's Batting Title, 1956, 1959
• National League's "Most Valuable Player," 1957
• World Series Champions (Milwaukee Braves), 1957
• Three Gold Glove Awards, 1958-1960
• 24 All Star Game Appearances
• National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee, 1982
• 755 Home Runs
• 2,297 Runs Batted In
• 6,856 Total Bases
• 1,477 Extra Base Hits
• 12,364 Times At Bat
NLBM Legacy 2000 Players' Reunion Alumni Book, Kansas City Missouri: Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Inc., 2000.
James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.
Henry "Hank" Aaron