Hank Aaron

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Hank Aaron : biography

February 5, 1934 –

In 1953, the Braves promoted him to the Jacksonville Braves, their Class-A affiliate in the South Atlantic League. Helped by Aaron’s performance, the Braves won the league championship that year. Aaron led the league in runs (115), hits (208), doubles (36), RBI (125), total bases (338), and batting average (.362). He won the league’s Most Valuable Player Award and had such a dominant year that one sportswriter was prompted to say, "Henry Aaron led the league in everything except hotel accommodations." Aaron’s time with the Braves did not come without problems. He was one of the first five African Americans to play in the league. The 1950s were a period of racial segregation in parts of the United States, especially the southeastern portion of the country. When Aaron traveled around Jacksonville, Florida and the surrounding areas, he was often separated from his team because of Jim Crow laws. In most circumstances, the team was responsible for arranging housing and meals for its players, but Aaron often had to make his own arrangements. The Braves’ manager, Ben Geraghty, tried his best to help Aaron on and off the field. Former Braves minor league player and sportswriter Pat Jordan said, "Aaron gave [Geraghty] much of the credit for his own swift rise to stardom."Jordan, Pat. A False Spring. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1975. ISBN 978-0-8032-7626-0.

1953 also proved notable to Aaron off the field, as he met his future wife, Barbara Lucas. The night they met, Lucas decided to attend the Braves’ game. Aaron singled, doubled, and hit a home run in the game. On October 6, Aaron and Lucas married.

Before being promoted to the majors, Aaron spent the winter of 1953 playing in Puerto Rico. Mickey Owen, the team’s manager, helped Aaron with his batting stance. After working with Owen, Aaron was better able to hit the ball effectively all over the field, whereas previously, Aaron was only able to hit for power when he hit the ball to left or center field. During his stay in Puerto Rico the Braves requested that Aaron start playing in the outfield. This was the first time Aaron had played any position other than shortstop or second base with the Braves.

Major League Baseball career

On March 13, 1954, Milwaukee Braves left fielder Bobby Thomson fractured his ankle while sliding into second base during a spring training game. The next day, Aaron made his first spring training start for the Braves’ major league team, playing in left field and hitting a home run. This led Hank Aaron to a major league contract and a Braves uniform with the number five. On April 13, Aaron made his major league debut and was hitless in five at-bats against the Cincinnati Reds’ left-hander Joe Nuxhall. In the same game, Eddie Mathews hit two home runs, the first of a record 863 home runs the pair would hit as teammates. On April 15, Aaron collected his first major league hit, a double off Cardinals’ pitcher Vic Raschi. Aaron hit his first major league home run on April 23, also off Raschi. Over the next 122 games, Aaron batted .280 with thirteen homers before he suffered a fractured ankle on September 5. He then changed his number to 44, which would turn out to look like a "lucky number" for the slugger. Aaron would hit 44 home runs in four different seasons, and he hit his record-breaking 715th career home run off Dodgers pitcher Al Downing, who coincidentally also wore number 44.

At this point, Aaron was known to family and friends primarily as "Henry." Braves’ public relations director Don Davidson, observing Aaron’s quiet, reserved nature, began referring to him publicly as "Hank" in order to suggest more accessibility. The nickname quickly gained currency, but "Henry" continued to be cited frequently in the media, both sometimes appearing in the same article, and Aaron would answer to either one. During his rookie year, his other well-known nicknames, "Hammerin’ Hank" (by teammates) and "Bad Henry" (by opposing pitchers) are reported to have arisen. (Hank Aaron: The Man Who Beat the Babe, by Phil Musick, 1974, p. 66)