Henry Aaron’s legacy in baseball is so tied to three numbers – 715, 755 and the place where Barry Bonds’ career ended – that all too often we lose sight of his complete genius on the field. Let’s just say: If you convert his 755 home runs into an out, he always comes up over 3,000 hits. Or some other way of looking at it: He played 23 seasons in the Major League and was an All-Star 25 times (Aaron had several All-Star Games early in his career).
Although he is widely regarded as one of the top five players in MLB history, Aaron remains underrated among the all-time greats. He played most of his career in the shadow of his contemporary Willie Mays, who was a more visually exciting player thanks to Mays’ defense in the midfield. Many still consider Babe Ruth to be the greatest right fielder of all time. This makes Aaron the second best right fielder of all time after his generation.
When experts and fans talk about the best hitters in the history of the game, they are usually talking about Ruth and Ted Williams and Bonds or even individual hitters like Tony Gwynn before Aaron’s name came up. However, no player has played with such sustained and consistent excellence for as long as Aaron.
Showing up every day isn’t glamorous, but it’s a way to beat Ruth and hit 755 home runs. As a rookie for the Milwaukee Braves in 1954, Henry Aaron broke his ankle in early September and finished the season in 122 games. He may not have been as Cal Ripken as Iron Man, but Aaron didn’t miss many games after that. From 1955 to 1968, he played 2,157 of the 2,214 possible games, averaging just 4.1 missed games per season. It dropped to 147 and 150 games in 1969 and 1970, then to 35 and 36.
He hasn’t had a bad season since. He received his only MVP title in 1957, but Aaron finished in the top ten, voting 13 times at a time when the National League was overflowing with future Hall of Famers competing for the title, and finished in the top three in three different decades. Here’s one way to look at his high level of play over nearly two decades:
Most seasons of the Six Seasons War
Most seasons of the Seven Years’ War
Lou Gehrig 11
Mays is right up there with Aaron, but even Mays was slowing down in his late 30s. Mays’ last season as a 30-year-old was in 1966, at the age of 35. He has hit 118 home runs since he was 36 years old. Aaron hit 47 home runs with 37 and has hit 201 since he was 36 years old.
It’s another testament to Aaron’s consistency. Forty-seven other players have hit at least 47 home runs this season – 15 of them – but Aaron remains the second-best home run hitter this season. Since the end of his career in 1976, four players in their 30s have hit more home runs than Aaron. None of them could keep him in his 30s:
Under 30Alex Rodriguez: 464 HR, 85.0 WAR
Ken Griffey Jr: 438 HR, 76.2 WAR
Albert Pujols : 408 HR, 81.4 WAR
Andrew Jones : 368 HR, 61.0 WAR
Henry Aaron: 366 HOURS, 80.7 WAR
After 30 years of Rodriguez: 232 HR, 32.5 WAR
Griffey: 192 HR, 7.6 WAR
Pujols : 254 HR, 19.4 WAR
Jones: 66 HR, 1.7 WAR
Aaron : 389 HOURS, 62.4 WAR
In 1955, Aaron hit .314 with 27 homers, 105 runs and 106 RBIs in his second season in the majors, his first major season when he was just 21 years old. In 1973, at age 39, he hit .301 with 40 home runs – in just 120 games. But Aaron wasn’t just any snail. He finished his career with a 0.305 batting average and hit 0.300 14 times, although many of his best seasons were in the 1960s, under some of the most difficult batting conditions since the days of the dead ball. In an interview with the MLB Network last month, Aaron said the thing he was most proud of was not being out of the game.
In fact, he never went on strike 100 times a season and ended up doing more marches than strikes. Consider that Ruth, who played at a time when there were far fewer scratches than in Aaron’s time, was on top in terms of number of scratches five times. Ruth was a fan of 12.5% of his plate appearances, Aaron only 9.9%. Maybe that’s why Aaron was such a clutch player and an RBI guy. He reached 0.324 with runners in scoring position in his career, and he reached 0.318/ 0.407/ 0.576 in late and tight situations where the game is most likely to be won – better than his overall line 0.305/ 0.374/ 0.555.
Tim Kurkjian remembers the influence of Hank Aaron, who went far beyond the ballpark.
Bonds may have overtaken Aaron in home runs, but Aaron is still the all-time leader in RBIs and total bases. According to the unofficial list on BaseballReference.com (RBIs are not considered official until 1920), Aaron leads the way with 2,297, ahead of Ruth with 2,214. Pujols is in 2100, but 2021 will likely be his last season.
Years ago, Aaron walked into an ESPN baseball booth on a Sunday night. At one point, there was a runner on second base with no outs. Joe Morgan asked Aaron how many times he had tried to get the runner to third base – expecting Aaron to say he was making the right play and hitting the ball on the right side. Aaron let out a big, warm laugh. Never, he says. I was always trying to knock the guy out.
The overall track record of the bases is perhaps even more unsurpassable. Aaron has 6,856, far more than Stan Musial’s 6,134. If another player were to repeat Musial’s numbers, he would need to hit 181 more home runs to break Aaron’s record.
More homage: The Eternal Link to Black Baseball | Podcast BBTN
Aaron was not only a dominant hitter, but also a great fielder and baseball player. He won three Golden Gloves and, if the baseball figures of his time are reasonable estimates, baseball estimates show he ranked ninth among right-handed players in plus-98 saves during his career. He stole 240 bases with an outstanding hitting percentage, and when he hit 44 home runs and stole 31 bases in 1963, he became only the third player to score 30 bases that season (after Ken Williams and Mays). Joe Torre, his longtime teammate with the Braves, said he has never seen Aaron make a mistake on the field. And although he played only three games in the postseason (in the 1957 and 1958 series and the 1969 National League Championship Series), he hit .362/.405/.710 with six home runs in 17 games.
He ranks fifth among the top players in WAR career:
Rut : 162.1
Mays : 156.2
Ty Cobb : 151.0
Aaron : 143.1
You can add Ted Williams (121.9 WAR, although he missed a few years of his prime due to World War II and the Korean War) to this thread – although Williams is not the infield or base player that Bonds, Mays and Aaron were. So, yes, the top 5 is correct, probably before Cobb if you make an adjustment to the schedule and you can evaluate what you want to do with the bonds.
How about playing along with Mays? OK. Yes, of course. Because of Mays size, Aaron seemed a bit underrated even when they played. At that time, however, not everyone agreed. Here’s a quote from Pie Traynor, the third base player in the 1964 Hall of Fame: I’d take Hank Aaron over Mays any day. Just give me a guy who plays all the games, never gets tired, never complains and never passes out. … We don’t hear much about Hank, but he’s just as good a fielder, runner and regular and best hitter.
frequently asked questions
How many times was Hank Aaron a star?
Aaron has been an All-Star 25 times, more than anyone else. He played only 23 seasons, but from 1959 to 1962 there were several All-Star Games.
Has Hank Aaron ever won a World Series?
Hank Aaron – Wikipedia
How much is Hank Aaron worth?
Hank Aaron’s net worth and salary: Hank Aaron was a heroic American baseball player and businessman with a net worth of $25 million at the time of his death. Hank Aaron passed away on January 22, 2021 at the age of 86. Hank Hammering. Aaron played 23 seasons in Major League Baseball from 1954 to 1976.
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