By Glen Sparks
Happy birthday, Henry Aaron. Hammerin’ Hank turns 82 today. The great slugger is No. 2 on baseball’s all-time home run list, or still No. 1, depending on your point of view. This is a look at Aaron’s life and career in 10 bullet points:
- Born Feb. 5, 1934, in Mobile, Ala., Aaron played 23 seasons in the major leagues (1954-76). He hit 755 career home runs, 733 in the National League for the Braves (both the Milwaukee and Atlanta versions) and 22 for the then-American League Milwaukee Brewers.
- The Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues signed Aaron on Nov. 20, 1951. He spent three months with the Clowns in 1952 and is the last Negro league veteran to appear on a Major League roster.
- Aaron never hit 50 home runs in one season. He topped out at 47 in 1971. He hit at least 40 home runs eight times and led the league in 1957 (44), 1963 (44), 1966 (44, again) and 1967 (39). Aaron smashed at least 30 home runs in 15 seasons, the only player to ever do that.
- The right-handed slugger finished in the top five in MVP voting eight times, but he won the award only once, in 1957. Besides belting 44 home runs that season, he led the N.L. with 132 RBI and finished fourth in batting average at .322.
- Curt Simmons, a long-time pitcher, once said this of Aaron: “Trying to sneak a fastball by Henry Aaron is like trying to sneak a sunrise past a rooster.”
- Aaron ranks first on the all-time list in RBI (2,297) and first in total bases (6,856). He led the league in RBI four times and drove in more than 100 runs 11 times. He is third all-time in hits (3,771) and games played (3,298).
- Aaron smacked home run No. 713 on Sept. 29, 1973, the next-to-last day of the season. He had to wait more than six months before tying Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record of 714. That blast came April 4, 1974, off Cincinnati Reds hurler Jack Billingham at Riverfront Stadium. Four days later, in front of 53,775 fans at Atlanta’s Fulton-County Stadium, Hammerin’ Hank knocked No. 715 off Los Angeles Dodgers starter Al Downing.
- The Baseball Writers voted Aaron into the Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot, in 1982, with 97.8 percent of the vote. Only Ty Cobb had been elected to Cooperstown with a higher percentage (98.23 in 1936).
- MLB created the Hank Aaron Award in 1999 to honor the top hitter in each league. Later that year, Aaron was named to baseball’s All-Century team. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002. Statues of Aaron stand outside Miller Park in Milwaukee and Turner Field in Atlanta.
- The San Francisco Giants’ Barry Bonds hit career home run No. 756 on Aug. 7, 2007, off the Washington Nationals’ Mike Bacsik, to break Aaron’s mark. Bonds retired with 762 homers … and with a cloud of suspicion all around him. How much help did Bonds get from performance-enhancing drugs? Too much, many observers say. In the minds of many, Aaron remains baseball’s true home-run king.