Hank Aaron, arguably the GOAT amongst hitters in Major League Baseball history, died Friday morning at age 86. His passing brought an immediate deluge of tributes throughout the baseball world. Aaron broke in with the Milwaukee Braves in 1954, in 1957 he won his first Most Valuable Player award, hitting 44 home runs with 132 RBI. Aaron hit a walk-off pennant clinching home run and the Braves ultimately defeated the New York Yankees in the World Series.
Just 6 feet tall and only 180 pounds, Aaron never hit 50 home runs in a season, but it was consistency over 23 seasons that stands out. He had some of his more productive seasons after the franchise relocated to a hitter-friendly ballpark in Atlanta. In 1971 Aaron led the National League with 47 home runs and a 1.079 OPS. The countdown to overtaking Babe Ruth's career record began in 1973 when Aaron blasted 40 long balls in just 120 games played. That put Aaron's career total at 713, one shy of Ruth. Throughout 1973 and in the offseason, Aaron received more mail than any public figure excluding politicians, most of it complimentary but others threatening and hate-filled. The Braves were ordered by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to play Aaron in two of the Braves first three games of 1974 in Cincinnati. Aaron wasted no time tying Ruth, going deep on his first swing of the season.
That set the stage for a nationally televised Monday night game in Atlanta against the Los Angeles Dodgers, complete with a America outline/flag painted in center field. The record-breaking swing came in the fourth inning off Al Downing, the ball flew over Bill Buckner in left field and caught in the Atlanta bullpen by relief pitcher Tom House. Dodgers players congratulated Aaron on his trip around the bases before he was mobbed at home plate. "What a marvelous moment for the world, a Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South," Vin Scully exclaimed on the Dodgers broadcast. Returning to Wisconsin for the 1975-76 seasons, Aaron hit his final 22 home runs in the American League as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. Aaron finished with a .305 career batting average, his 3,771 base hits rank third all time, Aaron also places second on number of outs recorded. Aaron's passing comes on the heels of those of former teammate and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro and Hall of Famer and longtime Braves announcer Don Sutton. On his social media account, current Braves broadcaster Jim Powell said, "It is apparent to me that there is going to be a really big game in Heaven soon."