RIP Hank Aaron, dead at 86

He retired as the all-time home run king, despite being a slim, average-sized man (6′, 175 pounds). Barry Bonds eventually bested that particular record, but Hank and Ed Mathews still hold the record for the most homers as teammates, edging out two guys you may have heard of – Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

The home run totals in Aaron’s prime years were diminished substantially by his having played in County Stadium. Although Aaron never hit 50 homers in a season, thereby denying him a special place in the baseball pantheon, he did have three separate years in Milwaukee when he hit at least 25 on the road. A road total like that normally guarantees 50 for the year, but Aaron finished with 44-45-44 those years. In his twelve years with the Braves in Milwaukee he hit 185 homers in County Stadium and 213 on the road. (I discussed the issue of home park impact on lifetime home runs totals in a lengthy article.)

(NOTE: After the Braves left Wisconsin, Aaron hit 190 at home for them in the Launching Pad and only 145 on the road, so his lifetime totals just about balanced out).

Although Hank is remembered mainly for his pursuit of Ruth’s lifetime home run record, the real Hank Aaron story is that he may have been the most consistent hitter in baseball history. He’s remembered for having a hammer, but he could also wield a scalpel. Baseball batting averages vary quite a bit from year to year because even a few hits have a significant impact. For example, Ted Williams needed only five more hits to achieve his second .400 season in 1957. Just five hits. But if you look at careers in two-year increments, a lot of the random variations, like injuries and plain old luck, tend to smooth out to give us a sharper image of true performance.

Here a snapshot of Hank Aaron’s youthful career in two-year increments.

1955-1956 .321
1957-1958 .324
1959-1960 .324
1961-1962 .325
1963-1964 .323

And that’s Hank Aaron in a nutshell. He never batted .360. He never hit 50 homers or knocked in 150 runs. But if you wanted a guy in your line-up who was just about a sure thing to hit .320 with 40 homers for a decade or more, Henry was your man.

And who wouldn’t want that guy?

Plus Hank had a lifetime post-season average of .362, could steal bases when needed, and played his position with consummate skill. He could also fill in at the other outfield positions, first base, and even second base in a pinch! All of those skills led to his having received MVP votes in 19 consecutive seasons and having been chosen as an all-star in 21 consecutive seasons.

He was inducted into the HoF with 406 votes out of a possible 415 …

those other 9 voters were total assholes.

5 thoughts on “RIP Hank Aaron, dead at 86

  1. Looking through his stats what popped out to me was that for such a power hitter, he never stuck out more that 97 time in any season of his career.

  2. This Deadspin remembrance had three great quotes from/about Aaron:

    (1) “You know, if I had to pay to go see somebody play for one game, I wouldn’t pay to see Hank Aaron. I wasn’t flashy. I didn’t start fights. I didn’t rush out to the mound every time a pitch came near me. I didn’t hustle after fly balls that were 20 rows back in the seats.”

    “But,” he added, “if I had to pay to see someone play in a three-game series, I’d rather see me.”

    (2) “I looked for the same pitch my whole career — a breaking ball. All of the time. I never worried about the fastball. They couldn’t throw it past me, none of them.”

    (3) The great pitcher Curt Simmons said of him: “Trying to throw a fastball past Hank Aaron was like trying to sneak the sun past a rooster.”

      1. Yeah and the uniform number on his stomach is reversed too. The photo was used flipped for some reason.

  3. Inner circle of inner circle. I have three autographed baseballs sitting behind me as I type: Koufax and Drysdale, Musial, Aaron (I’d have a Williams, except most of them out there seem to have been signed by his flaky kid John Henry). Plus someone who never existed , “Fausto Carmona”.
    When I was a little kid rooting for the the Dodgers nobody scared me more with a bat in his hand.

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