Saturday, July 16, 2011

#170 Hank Aaron

#170 Hank Aaron
Are you ready for this bad boy? I've tried to complete most of this set by trade, but as we get down to the big-ticket cards I've got to be on the lookout for good deals. Ed was out at the Baseball Card Outlet nearby in Baltimore when he saw this Hank Aaron card on clearance for $15. That's right, 90% off book value just because of an eensy weensy crease. It took me about two seconds to ask him to be my proxy buyer. It's always good to have extra eyes and ears in the community.

Fun facts about Hank Aaron:

-Hank was born in Mobile, AL. As a teenager he played in the Negro Leagues with the Mobile Black Bears and Indianapolis Clowns. He signed with the Braves at age 18 in 1952, choosing them over the Giants because Boston offered $50 more per month.

-He broke in with the Braves in 1954 after regular left fielder Bobby Thomson fractured an ankle. The young outfielder adjusted well, and was hitting .280 with 27 doubles, 13 home runs, and 69 RBI when a fractured ankle ended his season on September 5. He still finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting, with Wally Moon winning out over Ernie Banks, Gene Conley, and Hank.

-After leading the N.L. with 34 doubles, 200 hits, 340 total bases, and a .328 average in 1956, he won the MVP award in 1957. He topped the Senior Circuit that year with 118 runs scored, 44 homers, 132 RBI, and 369 total bases. He was also fourth in batting average at .322, as Stan Musial (.351) put some distance between the Hammer and the Triple Crown. He was also the driving offensive force behind Milwaukee's seven-game World Series victory over the Yankees: .393 AVG (11-for-28), .786 SLG, 3 HR, 7 RBI. Of course Lew Burdette gave up only two runs total in three complete-game victories and bested Hank for Series MVP.

-Hank also won three Gold Gloves in left field, 1958-1960, and is tied for the most years on the All-Star team. He took part in every Midsummer Classic for 21 straight years, 1955-1975.

-His younger brother Tommie played alongside him for parts of seven seasons in Milwaukee and Atlanta, beginning in 1962 and ending in 1971, but totaled just 13 home runs. In 1969, they became the first pair of brothers to team up in a League Championship Series.

-It's hard to summarize a career as outstanding as Hank's, but here are his three greatest seasons by OPS+ (with 100 being league-average), with league-leading totals in bold: 1959 (116 R, 223 H, 46 2B, 39 HR, 123 RBI, .355/.401/.636, 181 OPS+), 1963 (121 R, 44 HR, 130 RBI, 31 SB, .319/.391/.586, 179 OPS+), and 1971 (47 HR, 118 RBI, .327/.410/.669, 194 OPS+). That 1963 season was his closest miss in the Triple Crown race, as he was third in average behind Willie Davis (.326) and Roberto Clemente (.320). Incredibly, he finished third in MVP balloting in all three seasons.

-In 1970, Aaron became the first player in big league history with both 500 career home runs and 3,000 hits. He continued chasing history, enduring racist hate mail and death threats as he closed in on Babe Ruth's home run record in the early 1970s. He quietly endured these attacks and finally became the home rung king with #715, a two-run shot off of the Dodgers' Al Downing on April 8, 1974.

-His career came full circle with a November 1974 trade to the Milwaukee Brewers, with whom he finished his career with a two-year stint as a designated hitter. His career spanned 23 seasons, in which he hit .305/.374/.555 with 2,174 runs scored (4th all-time), 3,771 hits (3rd), 624 doubles (10th), 755 home runs (2nd to Barry Bonds' 762), 2,297 RBI (1st), and 6,856 total bases (1st).

-Home run minutiae: Hank hit 97 homers against the Reds, his most against any team. He victimized 310 different pitchers, with Don Drysdale (17 HR) his favorite target. He went deep in 31 different parks, and his highest total as a visitor was 50 HR at Wrigley Field. This one's my favorite: he hit 258 homers in the first three innings, 261 in the middle innings, and 236 from the seventh inning onward. That's pretty good distribution!

-He was of course a first-ballot Hall of Famer, garnering 97.8% percent of the vote. I'll withhold comment on the nincompoops that left him off of their ballot because "Babe Ruth/Honus Wagner/Walter Johnson/etc. didn't get 100%". The Braves and Brewers each retired his #44 and dedicate a statue in his likeness at their ballparks, and he has been a member of the Braves' front office for more than three decades. In 1999, MLB established the Hank Aaron Award, given annually to the top offensive player in each league. He has received the Presidential Citizens Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And, in a little touch that I enjoyed, he voiced both himself and his fictitious descendant Hank Aaron XXIV in a 2002 episode of Futurama.
#170 Hank Aaron (back)


  1. Hank Aaron is probably my all-time favorite player. My first baseball memory is watching him hit #715 at a neighbor's house when I was 7 years old. Good pickup.

  2. I remember that 1966 was a year as a kid that I bought alot of baseball cards. Aarons card that year was #500, a portrait shot of him, and I kept getting his card so often that I recall getting frustrated. "Oh no!, not Aaron again!"

  3. Crease scmease, $15 for a '65 Aaron is a nice deal for an awesome card.

    Hank put up a few numbers, no? One of my favorite baseball memories is seeing hit #712 in the Astrodome in 1973.

  4. I had the good fortune to see Aarons 3000th hit and also hr #714 as a fan of the Reds in the 70s. In both games I was sitting on the 1st base side;both games were sunny afternoon affairs. I recall hit #3000 being an infield groundball that Woodward I believe fielded around the 2nd base bag and unable to throw him out. In the opener in '74, my dad had secured tickets at the last minute ( I got excused from school early) and no sooner settled into my seat when Hank clouted the pitch over the left field wall. Great memories.

  5. To Brox: Nice problem to have getting too many Aaron cards. I couldn't get one to save my life, it wasn't until th 73 set that I got a regular Aaron card. I did get a lot of Ruth/Aaron/Mays 1973 (topps #1) cards

  6. When you see numbers like this on a card compared to the vast majority of players, it really stands out. As a Braves fan, I'm hopint Jason Heyward can have a career even half as good.

  7. Matt - That is a great memory. Mine is Fred Lynn making a leaping catch for the Orioles in a game in 1987. It was my first time at Memorial Stadium, but I'm hazy on the details.

    Brox - If you still had those, you'd probably be commenting from Barbados right about now!

    Bob - Milestone HRs are a blast. I saw Jim Thome hit #591 at Camden Yards this year. Hope he gets the 4 he needs for 600.

    Cincy - Sounds like you led the charmed life as a kid. :)

    Douglas - I feel you. I'm also working on the 1975 Topps set, and Hank's 1974 Highlights card is one of 20 or so that I still need.

    Marc - If Heyward can stay healthy, I'd expect good things from long as his manager stops batting him sixth...