680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – When you go through a list of the all-time greats who have every played the game of baseball, Hank Aaron is towards the very top of that list. And when you think of the Braves organization, you think Henry Louis Aaron. On Friday morning, it was announced that Aaron had passed away, a couple weeks shy of his 87th birthday.
Born in Mobile, Alabama in 1934, Hank Aaron followed a brief stint in the Negro Leagues with the Indianapolis Clowns with a 23 year career in the Big Leagues that saw him debut as a 20 year old with the Milwaukee Brewers on April 13, 1954. Aaron would finish his first season in the Majors with a fourth place finish in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Wally Moon, Ernie Banks and Gene Conley. Over the following 22 seasons, Aaron would earn 25 All-Star nods, with three Gold Gloves, a pair of batting titles, a World Series Championship in 1957 (a season in which he was also the MVP), and set a new Major League record with 755 home runs.
We all know Aaron is widely still considered the true Home Run King. But even if you were to take away each of this 755 homers, Aaron still would’ve finished his Hall of Fame career with north of 3,000 hits. That, in and of itself, is truly mind boggling. His 2,297 lifetime RBI is still the most of all-time. And while his accomplishments are forever enshrined in Cooperstown, in 1999, Major League Baseball dedicated an individual award in his honor. Each season, the Hank Aaron Award is given to the best overall offensive performer in both the National and American League. It feels only fitting, that Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman was 2020’s winner. “Winning the Hank Aaron Award is extra special for me since I get to put on the same uniform that he wore throughout his illustrious career” Freeman tweeted. “An incredible baseball player and an even better man. I am honored and humbled to win this award” Freeman added.
Over the years, Hank Aaron could still be spotted at both Turner Field and more recently Truist Park. One of my favorite things was watching the reactions, especially of the younger players, when he would walk into the Clubhouse. It was a mixture of excitement, shock and awe being in the presence of such greatness. Even the few times I sat down with him, I found myself a bit star struck. Everyone knows his accomplishments between the lines. But for those of us fortunate to have a chance to meet him over the years, he was the definition of grace and class and will truly be missed.
Kevin McAlpin has covered the Braves since 2012 for @680TheFan and the @BravesRadioNet.