Hank Aaron

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Hank Aaron : biography

February 5, 1934 –

As the 1974 season began, Aaron’s pursuit of the record caused a small controversy. The Braves opened the season on the road in Cincinnati with a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds. Braves management wanted him to break the record in Atlanta, and were therefore going to have Aaron sit out the first three games of the season. But Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn ruled that he had to play two games in the first series. He played two out of three, tying Babe Ruth’s record in his very first at bat—on his first swing of the season—off Reds pitcher Jack Billingham, but did not hit another home run in the series.

The team returned to Atlanta, and on April 8, 1974, a crowd of 53,775 people showed up for the game—a Braves attendance record. The game was also broadcast nationally on NBC. In the fourth inning, Aaron hit career home run number 715 off Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Al Downing. Although Dodgers outfielder Bill Buckner nearly went over the outfield wall trying to catch it, the ball landed in the Braves’ bullpen, where relief pitcher Tom House caught it. While cannons were fired in celebration, two white college students sprinted onto the field and jogged alongside Aaron for part of his circuit around the bases, temporarily startling him. As the fans cheered wildly, Aaron’s parents ran onto the field as well.

Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully addressed the racial tension — or apparent lack thereof — in his call of the home run:

"What a marvelous moment for baseball; what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia; what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron. … And for the first time in a long time, that poker face in Aaron shows the tremendous strain and relief of what it must have been like to live with for the past several months."

A few months later, on October 5, 1974, Aaron hit his 733rd and final home run as a Brave. Thirty days later, after Aaron decided not to retire, the Braves traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers for Roger Alexander and Dave May. On May 1, 1975, Aaron broke baseball’s all-time RBI record, previously held by Ruth with 2,213. That year, he also made the last of his 25 record-breaking All-Star appearances; he lined out to Dave Concepción as a pinch-hitter in the second inning. This All-Star game, like his first in 1955, was before a home crowd at Milwaukee County Stadium.

On July 20, 1976, Hank Aaron hit his 755th and final home run at Milwaukee County Stadium off Dick Drago of the California Angels, which stood as the Major League home run record until it was broken in 2007 by Barry Bonds.

Youth and professional beginnings

Hank Aaron was born in Mobile, Alabama, to Herbert and Estella (Pritchett) Aaron. He had seven siblings. Tommie Aaron, one of his brothers, also went on to play Major League Baseball. By the time Aaron retired, he and his brother held the record for most career home runs by a pair of siblings (768). They were also the first siblings to appear in a League Championship Series as teammates.

While he was born in a section of Mobile referred to as "Down the Bay," he spent most of his youth in Toulminville. Aaron grew up in a poor family, picking cotton on a farm, and to this day people say that strengthened his hands so he could hit more home runs. His family couldn’t afford baseball equipment, so he practiced by hitting bottle caps with sticks. He would create his own bats and balls out of materials he found on the streets.David Nemec, Players of Cooperstown:Baseball’s hall of fame, Publications International, Cooperstown, NY, 1995. Aaron attended Central High School as a freshman and a sophomore, where he played outfield and third base on the baseball team and helped lead his team to the Mobile Negro High School Championship both years.Kappes, Serena. (2005) Hank Aaron, Twenty-First Century Books. ISBN 978-0-8225-3069-5.Allen, Bob & Bill Gilbert. (1999) The 500 Home Run Club, Sports Publishing LLC. ISBN 978-1-58261-031-3. During this time, he also excelled in football. His success on the football field led to several football scholarship offers, which he turned down to pursue a career in professional baseball. Although he batted cross-handed (i.e., as a right-handed hitter, with his left hand above his right), Aaron had already established himself as a power hitter. As a result, in 1949, at the age of fifteen, Aaron had his first tryout with a MLB franchise, the Brooklyn Dodgers; however, he did not make the team. After this, Aaron returned to school to finish his secondary education, attending the Josephine Allen Institute, a private high school in Alabama. During his junior year, Aaron joined the Mobile Black Bears, an independent Negro league team. While on the Bears, Aaron earned $10 per game ($ today).