Hall of Fame outfielder Hank Aaron died Friday at the age of 86, report Tim Kephart and Karyn Greer of CBS46 in Atlanta.
One of the all-time greats to ever play the game, Aaron’s 755 homers were the MLB career record for three decades before finally being surpassed. He’s still the all-time leader in RBI (2,297) and total bases (6,856), and ranks third in hits (3,771) and plate appearances (13,941) and fourth in runs scored (2,174). His career numbers over 23 seasons, in one of the largest bodies of work ever assembled, are still staggering.
Aaron, career: .305/.374/.555, 153, wRC+, 136.3 fWAR, 143.1 bWAR
His bWAR ranks fifth among position players (behind Bonds, Ruth, Mays, Cobb), and his fWAR is sixth (same group, plus Honus Wagner). As if his legendary bat wasn’t enough, he also chipped in 240 steals, and three Gold Gloves for his highly rated defense in right field.
Henry Louis Aaron debuted in the majors for the Milwaukee Braves in 1954, blasting 13 homers as a 20-year-old. He stayed with the Braves for 21 seasons, through the team’s move to Atlanta in 1966, and he earned NL MVP votes in 19 of them, including eight top-5 finishes. He won the award in 1957, and the Braves won the World Series that same year, with Aaron posting a 1.200 OPS in seven games; they went again in ‘58 but fell to the Yankees in seven games. He wrapped up his career with a return to Milwaukee, playing two years for the newly created Brewers in their first decade of existence.
He was an All-Star in 21 consecutive seasons, the longest streak in any of the four major North American pro sports. Since that span included four seasons in which two Midsummer Classics were played each year, he was technically a 25-time All-Star, the most in MLB history.
But perhaps the best measure of his longevity can be seen in the home run department. He cracked double-digit homers in every season of his career, including 20 at age 40, and another 10 in his final year at age 42. He topped 40 in eight summers, at least 30 on 15 occasions, and at least 20 in 20 campaigns. And he did it all without striking out much, never once doing so 100 times in a season, and finishing his career with more walks than Ks overall.
When Aaron joined the Hall of Fame ballot, there was no question about his credentials. He sailed in on the first try with 97.8% of the vote, which at the time was a percentage that ranked second only to Ty Cobb. In 1999, MLB created the annual Hank Aaron Award to honor the best hitter in each league every season.
More links about Aaron’s career and stats:
- Justice (MLB): Baseball legend Hank Aaron dies at 86
- Simon (MLB): 13 stats that show Hank Aaron’s significance
- Stark (Athletic): Hank Aaron by the numbers ($$$)
- Paine (FiveThirtyEight): Nobody — And We Mean Nobody — Was Consistently Great Like Hank Aaron
- Adler (MLB): Hall of Famers remember Hank on Twitter
Of course, the most enduring highlight of Aaron’s incredible career came on April 8, 1974, when he blasted a home run off Al Downing of the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was the 715th of his career, breaking Babe Ruth’s hallowed record.
“What a marvelous moment for baseball ... What a marvelous moment for the country and the world.”— MLB Vault (@MLBVault) January 22, 2021
RIP Hank Aaron, one of the greatest of all time.pic.twitter.com/kjrvSK19BM
Off the field, Aaron is remembered lovingly by all who knew him. Friday saw an outpouring of support from players, friends, and others all around the game, beginning with the Braves organization. (Click here for team’s official statement)
He was everything an athlete and person should be. pic.twitter.com/LhpPx0kmSZ— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) January 23, 2021
Fellow Hall of Famer Willie Mays, with whom Aaron played as a teammate in 22 All-Star Games
Willie Mays on the passing of Hank Aaron: pic.twitter.com/CxU5BPAvuC— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) January 22, 2021
Former Braves teammate Dusty Baker
Dusty Baker was on deck for the #Braves when Hank Aaron connected for home run No. 715, breaking Babe Ruth's all-time record.— Grant McAuley (@grantmcauley) January 22, 2021
Baker released the following statement through the Astros following news of Aaron's passing. pic.twitter.com/XFQDkXZMHm
Fellow Braves Hall of Famer Chipper Jones
I can’t imagine what Hank Aaron went through in his lifetime. He had every right to be angry or militant.....but never was! He spread his grace on everything and every one he came in contact with. Epitome of class and integrity. RIP Henry Aaron! #HammerinHank— Chipper Jones (@RealCJ10) January 22, 2021
Current Braves MVP Freddie Freeman
The Atlanta community and beyond. Hank was one of the greatest baseball players of all time, a champion civil rights activist and a role model for everyone. Thank you Mr. Aaron for everything you gave and taught. #Forever44— Freddie Freeman (@FreddieFreeman5) January 22, 2021
Aaron is so beloved that even other sports are retiring his number
The Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United will retire No. 44 for the 2021 seasons in honor of Atlanta legend Hank Aaron.— Tori McElhaney (@tori_mcelhaney) January 22, 2021
However, Aaron’s story can’t be told without the context of the racism he endured in mid-20th century America.
- Castrovince (MLB): Facing racism, Aaron still had hope, optimism
- Coffey (Athletic): The 1955 Mays-Newcombe All-Stars might be the best team you’ve never heard of ($$$)
- Bell (Talking Chop): The legend of Hank Aaron exists both in and beyond baseball
Hank Aaron got so much hate mail that the Atlanta Braves had to hire a secretary to help handle the Avalanche. He donated his memorabilia but kept the hate mail to remember how he was treated. We should remember it too and remember it wasn’t that long ago— Michele Norris (@michele_norris) January 22, 2021
Just so the world has a reminder of what it put this hero and his family through. A quick story from my mother. pic.twitter.com/5cpGDvNAky— Julian McWilliams (@byJulianMack) January 22, 2021
Aaron does also have one Oakland A’s connection, although he never played for the team and spent only two seasons in the American League — in 54 plate appearances against Oakland, he posted a .921 OPS and three homers, at ages 41-42.
Rather, it’s his nickname, Hammer, that intertwines with Athletics lore. Stanley Burrell, who worked for the A’s as a teenager in the 1970s, inherited the same moniker during his time with the team and later became known as MC Hammer.