Hank Aaron: Stories, Biography, & Things You Didn't Know About The Sports Legend

By | February 4, 2021

test article image
A baseball signed by Hank Aaron. (Arturo Pardavila III/Wikimedia Commons)

It's not hyperbole to say that baseball wouldn't be the same without Hank Aaron, the right fielder from Mobile, Alabama whose talent was so inherent that he transcended the profession of "baseball player" and became a living legend. Throughout his career, Aaron broke Babe Ruth's home run record with 755 balls knocked into the stands, and in his first year of eligibility, he was inducted into the M.L.B. Hall of Fame. Aaron went on to become the Senior Vice President of the Atlanta Braves and receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, but all of that is just a small part of Aaron's story. In his 86 years, he changed the sport that made him famous and inspired people to reach for the stars regardless of where they come from.

Bottle Caps And Baseball

In 1934, Hank Aaron was born in Mobile as one of seven siblings, including Tommie Aaron, who joined Hank in the M.L.B. The family couldn't afford sporting equipment, so Aaron practiced his swing by hitting bottle caps with broken branches, broom handles, or sticks. As a student at a high school with no baseball team, he tried out for and won a spot as an outfielder and third baseman for the semi-pro Mobile Black Bears, who paid him $3 a game.

In 1951, he was signed to the Indianapolis Clowns and spent three months playing with the team, during which time he contended with low pay, bad teammates, and rampant racism. While traveling through Washington, D.C. with the Clowns, he recalled, he heard the kitchen staff of a restaurant break all the plates the team had used after they ate breakfast. He wasn't with the Clowns for long, as he was soon courted by both the New York Giants and Boston Braves, selecting the Braves because they offered him $50 more per month.

test article image
Aaron with the Milwaukee Braves in 1960. (Baseball Digest/Wikimedia Commons)

Major League

Aaron didn't just jump to the majors when he signed his contract with the Braves. He was first sent to Eau Claire, where he joined the Bears, a Class C farm team. By the end of the season, Aaron was such a dominant player that he won Rookie of the Year. In 1953, he moved on to play with the Jacksonville Braves, Boston's Class A farm team, where continued to shine. He led the league in runs, hits, total bases, and batting average. Off the field, however, he was often left to his own devices. As one of the few black players on a team that was firmly entrenched in the Jim Crow South, he ate alone and had to find his own accommodations.

The same year that he joined the Braves, Aaron met his future wife at a game where he hit a home run while also singling and doubling. The couple married in October just before he went to Puerto Rico to play for the winter, where he not only made a move to the outfield but fortunately avoided the draft. Following spring training in Milwaukee, Aaron made his major league debut on April 13, 1954. He was initially assigned the number 5, but his number was changed to 44 after he fractured his ankle that September.

If we listed every milestone in Aaron's career, we'd be here all day, but there were a few standouts throughout the '50s and '60s. In 1957, he nabbed the pennant for the Braves after hitting a two-run walk-off home run and then led the Braves to victory at the World Series against the Yankees. In 1963, he became the third player to steal 30 bases and hit 30 home runs in one season. Two years later, he moved with the Braves to their current home in Atlanta.