Hank Aaron 1954 #128
by William Szczepanek
Hank Aaron reached the Majors in 1954 the same year as this rookie card. He came in 4th for Rookie of the Year behind Wally Moon, Ernie Banks and Gene Conley. In 113 games he only hit 13 home runs and batted .280, but everyone could see the talent. Every year from then on he hit 20 home runs or more except for his last 2 years with the Brewers when age caught up to him.
Aaron is still the all time leader in RBIs with 2,297, well ahead of Ruth, Bonds and Gehrig. He also is the all time leader in Total Bases with 6,856 far ahead of Musial, Mays and Bonds. These statistics, in my mind, make him the greatest power hitter of all time, though Ruth and many others are ahead of him in slugging percentage. Aaron did lead the league in slugging percentage 4 times.
Aaron was an extremely durable player who during his entire career was never out of the lineup for an extended period of time. Aaron was the calmest baseball player I have ever seen. His walk to home plate was classic, but also typical of the time. Pick up the bat, walk slowly, take your stance and hit the ball. His swing was effortless. It was all timing and balance, a short step toward the pitcher and a flick of the wrists. He was never out of balance, even when he missed the ball.
On May 30, 1956 I was fortunate enough to see his 45th and 46th home runs of his career in a doubleheader against the Cubs. My father commented as Aaron stood in the on deck circle that he was going to be a great one. I also got to see Aaron's 599th home run on April 25, 1971 in Atlanta against the Padres. 714 still seemed a long way off. The next year he was MVP. He is pictured to the right early in his career on the way to 755.
Aaron endured hate mail and death threats in pursuit of Babe Ruth's record. Like Jackie Robinson and all black players of his time he suffered through the situation of white only hotels and restaurants. Aaron knew that some people would always be living in the past. He observed that now that he was approaching the record there was the talk of getting the ball to Cooperstown. Where were all these people during the early and middle years? Year after year for 21 consecutive years Aaron was an All Star, but received little notoriety for his accomplishments. His real recognition didn't come until the last game of the season in 1973.
On a drizzly September 30th, 40,517 fans showed up at Fulton County Stadium to see Hank Aaron tie Babe Ruth's record. Aaron popped to short in his final at bat disappointing the crowd. They responded with a standing ovation that went on for more than five minutes as Aaron trotted out to left field. Aaron shyly waved his thanks. The applause grew louder and louder. Aaron will always remember those few minutes. I'm sure it's the greatest ovation ever for popping up to short. In truth it was a show of respect for Aaron and his accomplishments that was long overdue.
You can check out Hank Aaron's statistics at Baseball Reference.