A “Promising Young Rookie” Named Hank Aaron Fills in for Bobby Thomson!

A “Promising Young Rookie” Named Hank Aaron Fills in for Bobby Thomson!

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 A “Promising Young Rookie” Fills in for Bobby Thomson!

Yesterday was the anniversary of a significant day in baseball history, but it’s safe to say nobody knew it at the time…

Sixty-four years ago yesterday, March 14, 1954, a promising 20-year old from Mobile, Alabama – fresh from the Negro Leagues – started his first game in a Braves’ uniform, filling in for Bobby Thomson who had broken his ankle the day before.  It brought back memories of the day Lou Gehrig was inserted into the Yankee lineup because regular first baseman Wally Pipp had a “headache.”

The youngster made such an impression – three hits including a home run in the spring training game against Boston – that the Braves immediately offered him a major league contract. And the rest, as they say, is history!

I wonder if anyone at the time had an inkling that this promising young player with the name Hank Aaron would shortly blossom into one of the greatest sluggers the game had ever seen? I tend to doubt it.

Here’s a few words about the career of this “promising rookie”:

“Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron played 21 seasons for the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves and two seasons for the Milwaukee Brewers from 1954 through 1976, after appearing briefly in the Negro American League. Over his career Hank hit .305 with 3771 hits (3rd all-time), 2174 runs (4th all-time, tied with Babe Ruth), 755 home runs (2nd all-time), 2297 RBI (1st all-time), 6856 total bases (1st all-time), and 1477 extra base hits (1st all-time), .374 on-base percentage, and .555 slugging average, 12,365 at-bats (2nd all-time), and 3,298 games played (2nd all-time).

 Just a few of his many career highlights include: 25 All-star team selections (every year between 1955-1975); tied with Willie Mays and Stan Musial for the most All-Star Games played (24); one World Series championship (1957); National League MVP award (1957); three-time Gold Glove award (1958-1960); two-time National League batting champion (1956, 1959); four-time National League home run champion (1957, 1963, 1966, 1967); four-time National League RBI champion (1957, 1960, 1963, 1966).

 Aaron held the major league record for career home runs for 33 years with 715, breaking the record set by Babe Ruth, until his record was eclipsed by Barry Bonds during the tainted steroid era. He hit 24 or more home runs every year from 1955 through 1973, and is the only player to hit 30 or more home runs in a season at least fifteen times. He is one of only four players to have at least 17 seasons with 150 or more hits.  At the time of his retirement, Aaron held most of the game’s key career power records.

 Hank Aaron’s MVP Season, 1957:

 In 1957, Aaron batted .322, placing third, and led the league in home runs (44) and RBIs (132). He also scored 118 runs, and posted a .378 on-base percentage and a .600 slugging average. On September 23, 1957, Aaron hit a two-run game-ending home run in Milwaukee, clinching the pennant for the Braves and was carried off the field by his teammates. Milwaukee went on to win the World Series against the Yankees. Aaron did his part by hitting .393 with three homers and seven RBI.

-Gary Livacari

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Photo Credits: “Greats of the Game,” by Ray Robinson; and from “I Had a Hammer,” by Hank Aaron; others from public domain

Information: Excerpts edited from the Hank Aaron Wikipedia page, and sources named above.

Statistics from Baseball-Reference.com, Hank Aaron page

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I'm a baseball historian who also loves to write. My forte is identifying ballplayers in old photos, and my specail interest is the Dead Ball Era.

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