On Friday, January 22, 2021, Hammerin’ Hank Aaron passed away. When people think of baseball in Milwaukee, Robin Yount is often thought of the greatest Brewers’ player. While that is certainly a logical argument, it does not take into consideration the Milwaukee Braves and their greatest player: Henry Aaron. Best known as a Brave, Hank Aaron played 21 of his 23 seasons with the Braves franchise. However, 14 of those 23 seasons were spent in Milwaukee. In this edition of Brewers Past and Present, we spotlight the career of the greatest player to ever play baseball in the city of Milwaukee.
Early Struggles Against Racism
Unfortunately, Hank Aaron, like all Black ball players of his time, faced an uphill battle against racism in every facet of their lives. For Aaron, who was born in 1934 in Alabama, a career in sports was a longshot. The future home run king was not able to play baseball in high school. Only white teams were allowed.
Despite being kept away from competitive ball organized by the racist South, Aaron worked hard and attended a tryout for the Indianapolis Clowns, a Negro League team. It was at this tryout that we was spotted by a scout for the Boston Braves.
Hank Aaron played for the Clowns for three months. His standout play drew notice from other teams, and Aaron soon had offers from two teams: the New York Giants and Boston Braves. The Braves contract offer promised $50 more per month, so that was the team Aaron chose to sign with. The Boston Braves, of course, moved to Milwaukee in 1953 while Aaron was still in their minor league system. Hank made the Braves’ Opening Day Roster the following year in 1954.
The Best Milwaukee Has Ever Seen
Hank Aaron had a very solid rookie season, hitting .280 with 13 home runs and 69 RBI. His production was good enough to earn him a fourth place finish in the Rookie of the Year vote.
The next season, though, saw a new level of production from Hank Aaron. That year, Hank hit .314 with 27 home runs and 106 RBI and made his first All-Star team. It was the first of 21 straight All-Star seasons for the right-handed slugger. He also led the NL with 37 doubles that year.
After another All-Star season in 1956, Aaron would have arguably his greatest all-around season in 1957. That year, he hit .322 with 44 home runs and 132 RBI. He led the NL in home runs, RBI, and runs (118). His hard work earned him the NL MVP Award that year and the Milwaukee Braves won the World Series against the New York Yankees. It remains the only World Series title the city has enjoyed.
Over the next three seasons, in addition to his offensive production, Hank Aaron was finally recognized for his defensive abilities as well. From 1958-1960, Aaron won three straight Gold Glove Awards in right field.
Unfortunately for Milwaukee, the franchise, and Hank, moved to Atlanta following the 1965 season. Even though baseball in Milwaukee was done for the moment, Hank Aaron was not.
Hank Aaron’s Career in Atlanta
Despite the change of scenery, Hank picked up right where he left off in 1966. He led the NL in home runs (44) and RBI (127) again in the team’s first season in Atlanta. As in Milwaukee, he was a constant producer and star. For a long time, it did not seem like age could slow Hank Aaron at all. In 1969, at the age of 35, Aaron hit .300 and 44 home runs. In 1971, at the age of 37, Aaron hit .327 with a career-high 47 home runs and 118 RBI. Amazingly, at the age of 39 in 1973, Aaron hit .301 with 40 home runs. It was the eighth time in his career that he hit 40 or more home runs.
In one of the most iconic moments in baseball history, Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record on April 8, 1974. It wasn’t without adversity, though.
Despite his success in Milwaukee and Atlanta, many still hated Aaron because of the color of his skin. In the days and weeks leading up to his breaking the record, Aaron received death threats and letters stating that a Black man should not break Ruth’s record.
Threats could not stop Hank, though. He made the All-Star team again that year, which proved to be his last as a player in Atlanta. Following the season, the team wanted Aaron to take a front office job (and a huge pay cut). Aaron refused, and was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in November of 1974.
Two Years with the Brewers
Hank Aaron, aptly, ended his career in the city in which it began. While his two years with the Brewers were not nearly as productive as his past seasons there, it just seemed right to see him play in Milwaukee uniform again.
He made his final All-Star team with the Brewers in 1975 and his his final 22 career home runs in a Brewers uniform. Even though his two final years in Milwaukee were not statistically good, the team still retired his number 44 after his retirement. This gesture is more of a sign of respect for what Hank Aaron means to the city of Milwaukee for everything he did for the city in all the years he played there, not just for the Brewers.
You would be hard-pressed to find a man who left behind a greater legacy than Hank Aaron. Every year, Major League Baseball awards the best hitter in every league with the Hank Aaron Award. Aaron influenced his communities in Milwaukee and Atlanta, too, and played a role in helping African American charities and organizations in those cities get started and thrive.
The baseball world is certainly worse off without Hank Aaron as a part of it. However it is certainly better for having him at all. Despite the hate, the racism, and struggles, Hank Aaron never struck back and always proved his doubters wrong. He is an inspiration to all athletes, not just baseball players, and his legacy will live on for as long as baseball is played.
The Brewers will wear a black 44 patch on their uniforms this season to honor him.
ore “Brewers’ Past and Present” Features
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- Jeff Cirillo
- Cecil Cooper
- Prince Fielder
- Rollie Fingers
- Zack Greinke
- Josh Hader
- J.J. Hardy
- Keston Hiura
- Paul Molitor
- Nyjer Morgan
- Dave Nilsson
- CC Sabathia
- Ben Sheets
- Ted Simmons
- Justin Smoak
- Gorman Thomas
- Pete Vuckovich
- Rickie Weeks
- Robin Yount
- Christian Yelich
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