Aaron established himself as an inner-circle all-time great during the course of his 23-year career with the Milwaukee Braves, Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers from 1954-76.
In said career, Aaron hit .305/.374/.555 (155 OPS+) with 624 doubles, 755 home runs, 2,297 RBI, 2,174 runs, 3,771 hits and 240 stolen bases. He retired as the all-time home run leader and held the record for decades. He’s still the all-time leader in RBI and total bases. He also holds the record for the most All-Star games at 25 and the most seasons as an All-Star at 21 (for a stretch, MLB held two All-Star games per year).
The 1957 NL MVP, Aaron also won three Gold Gloves and two batting titles while leading the league in home runs four times, RBI four times, runs three times, hits twice, doubles four times, slugging four times and OPS three times. He won the World Series with the 1957 Braves and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first try in 1982.
The biggest moment most remember of Aaron’s career was surpassing Babe Ruth’s 714 career home runs on April 8, 1974. Here’s the great Vin Scully on the call:
In terms of those career stats, Aaron stacks up as well as anyone. He’s fourth in history in runs, third in hits, 13th in doubles, second in home runs, first in RBI, 27th in walks, 24th in OPS+, first in total bases, first in extra-base hits, seventh in times on base, fourth in intentional walks. He’s even fourth in sacrifice flies.
There are few who can even come close to the type of statistical prowess Aaron put together on the field. For example, he’s one of just three players with at least 2,000 runs and 2,000 RBI (Babe Ruth and Alex Rodriguez). Try this one: His lead in total bases is 722.
Among position players, Aaron ranks fifth in career WAR behind Barry Bonds, Ruth, Willie Mays and Ty Cobb.
“I want to send my heartfelt and warmest condolences to the Aaron family on their loss today,” Bonds, the current all-time home-run leader said in a statement on Instagram. “I was lucky enough to spend time with Hank on several occasions during my career and have always had the deepest respect and admiration for all that he did both on and off the field. He is an icon, a legend and a true hero to so many, who will forever be missed.”
Aaron’s prodigious offense wasn’t relegated to regular-season play. In 17 postseason games, he hit .362/.405/.710 with six home runs and 16 RBI. The 1957 World Series title was the first for the Braves since moving to Milwaukee from Boston. During that series, Aaron went 11 for 28 with a triple and three homers. No one else on his team had more than five hits and Aaron drove home seven of the Braves’ 22 runs. In the 1969 NLCS, the Braves were swept by the Mets in three games, but Aaron went 5 for 14 with two doubles and three homers while driving home seven of the Braves’ 15 runs.
“Hank Aaron is near the top of everyone’s list of all-time great players,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “His monumental achievements as a player were surpassed only by his dignity and integrity as a person. Hank symbolized the very best of our game, and his all-around excellence provided Americans and fans across the world with an example to which to aspire. His career demonstrates that a person who goes to work with humility every day can hammer his way into history – and find a way to shine like no other.”
“Hank eagerly supported our efforts to celebrate the game’s best and to find its next generation of stars, including through the Hank Aaron Award, which recognizes offensive excellence by Major League players, and the Hank Aaron Invitational, which provides exposure to elite young players. He became a close friend to me in recent years as result of his annual visit to the World Series. That friendship is one of the greatest honors of my life. I am forever grateful for Hank’s impact on our sport and the society it represents, and he will always occupy a special place in the history of our game. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to Hank’s wife, Billye, their family, the fans of Atlanta and Milwaukee, and the millions of admirers earned by one of the pillars of our game.”
Braves chairman Terry McGuirk released the following statement:
“We are absolutely devastated by the passing of our beloved Hank. He was a beacon for our organization first as a player, then with player development, and always with our community efforts. His incredible talent and resolve helped him achieve the highest accomplishments, yet he never lost his humble nature. Henry Louis Aaron wasn’t just our icon, but one across Major League Baseball and around the world. His success on the diamond was matched only by his business accomplishments off the field and capped by his extraordinary philanthropic efforts.
“We are heartbroken and thinking of his wife Billye and their children Gaile, Hank, Jr., Lary, Dorinda and Ceci and his grandchildren.”
Aaron was born and raised in conditions bordering on poverty in Alabama and was expected to take part in making the family money from a young age, picking cotton among other jobs. His family couldn’t afford to get him baseball equipment, so he learned how to hit with a broomstick and bottle caps. Come high school, his talent took over and he was catching on with the Indianapolis Clowns of a Negro League at age 17. After the Clowns took the Negro League World Series in 1952, Aaron got offers from the Giants and Braves. He spent 87 games in C League (roughly equivalent to Class A these days) at age 18 and then 137 in A League (around Double-A or Triple-A) at age 19 before hitting the bigs in 1954 at age 20 and never looking back.
He finished fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 1954. The next year he was an All-Star, finished ninth in MVP voting and led the league in doubles. Two years later he won MVP and the Braves were World Champs. He wouldn’t miss another All-Star Game in a season until he was 42 — his final year.
As noted, Aaron wasn’t just one of the greatest — if not the greatest — baseball players ever. He was an exemplary human off the field, carrying a modest decorum to his final days. Current Astros manager Dusty Baker came up with the Braves in 1968 and played with the already-legendary Aaron through 1974. Friday, Baker told Astros reporter Brian McTaggart, “[Aaron] was second only to my dad, and my dad meant the world to me.”
In addition to all his baseball accolades, Aaron was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Bill Clinton in 2001 and the President Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2002. Aaron now has an award named for him, as the Hank Aaron Award is given to the best hitter in each league, each season by Major League Baseball.
“My wife, Sue, and I are terribly saddened and heartbroken by the passing of the great Henry Aaron, a man we truly loved, and we offer our love and our condolences to his wonderful wife, Billye,” said former MLB commissioner Allan H. “Bud” Selig in a statement.
“Besides being one of the greatest baseball players of all time, Hank was a wonderful and dear person and a wonderful and dear friend. Not long ago, he and I were walking the streets of Washington, D.C. together and talking about how we’ve been the best of friends for more than 60 years. Then Hank said: “Who would have ever thought all those years ago that a black kid from Mobile, Alabama would break Babe Ruth’s home run record and a Jewish kid from Milwaukee would become the commissioner of baseball?
“Aaron was beloved by his teammates and by his fans. He was a true Hall of Famer in every way. He will be missed throughout the game, and his contributions to the game and his standing in the game will never be forgotten.”
A portion of Aaron’s Hall of Fame plaque includes a quote from Georgia congressman Andrew Young that says the following:
“Through his long career, Hank Aaron has been a model of humility, dignity, and quiet competence. He did not seek the adoration that is accorded to other national athletic heroes, yet he has now earned it.”
The baseball world lost one of its truly iconic figures on Friday.