When he retired in 1976, Hank Aaron was the all-time home run leader, having broken Babe Ruthís career record. But his legacy is far more than just home runs. In his prime, Aaron was a five-tool player: he could hit, hit for power, run, throw, and field. Early and into the middle part of his career he was one of the 2-3 best players in his league nearly every season. He led the National League in no fewer than 12 different offensive categories in his career. He won two batting titles, led the league in hits, runs scored, slugging, total bases, doubles, RBI, and extra-base hits. He was a contact hitter (The Hammer walked more than he fanned in his career) who also hit home runs.
After his playing career, Aaron transitioned into the front office, pioneering important roles in the game for African Americans. When Barry Bonds broke his home run mark, Aaron was graceful in handing out congratulations while also distancing himself from the controversy over the role that steroids played in the new record.
Aaron’s greatest thrill
Despite the hullabaloo over his 715th home run, Aaron always insisted that the biggest moment in his career came in 1957 when he hit the home run that clinched the first pennant for the Braves in Milwaukee. It came on September 23, at County Stadium against the St. Louis Cardinals. The game was tied at two and entered extra innings, when in the 11th, Milwaukee shortstop Johnny Logan singled with one out. One out later Aaron strode to the plate to face St. Louis reliever Billy Muffett. Aaron hit a waist-high fastball to center field – a high flyball that soared over the wall and into the stands for a two-run home run to win the game. The victory clinched the pennant and a few weeks later Milwaukee won Game Seven of the world Series to become champions of baseball. The pennant-clinching homer was only the 109th of Aaron’s young career – he’d hit 646 more – but it was his most memorable.