Henry Aaron: All-Time Home Run Leader, All-Time Home Run King?
As seen in Sandbox Sports

Henry "Hank" Aaron is indisputably the All-Time Home Run leader in Major League Baseball. This is a testimony to both his incredible athletic skills and a long, productive career.

 The one thing Hank Aaron is not, is the greatest home run hitter of all time. This is not intended as a negative towards Mr. Aaron, but rather an affirmation that despite Aaron's marvelous career (and the recent rampage by one Mark McGwire), George Herman "Babe" Ruth continues to hold this honor.

 Despite the fact that Aaron does not hold this particular distinction, his was truly a remarkable career. In fact, you could build a legitimate argument that unlike the claim that was stated at every Joe DiMaggio appearance, Aaron was and is in fact the Greatest Living Baseball Player.

 Henry Louis "Hammerin' Hank" Aaron was born in the racially divided city of Mobile, Alabama on February 5, 1934. Most of Aaron's childhood and teenage heroes were ballplayers: Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial and of course Jackie Robinson. It was at a very early age that Henry knew what he wanted to do.

 In 1952, in his first year with the Braves organization, with their Class C Wisconsin team, Aaron was the Northern League's Rookie of the Year. He was a unanimous choice despite playing in only 87 games. He batted .336, scored 89 runs, and had 116 hits, 61 runs batted in, and nine home runs. 

In 1953, Aaron moved up to the Jacksonville Tars of the Class A South Atlantic (Sally) League. He hit .362 (winning the league batting crown), while also leading the league with 125 RBIs, 115 runs scored, 208 hits, 338 total bases and 36 doubles. He was also second in home runs with 22 and triples with 14, leading his team to the League pennant while winning the League's Most Valuable Player Award. 

In 1954, after an injury to Bobby Thomson, Aaron made the Big League squad. On April 23, 1954, Aaron hit his first Major League home run off a Vic Raschi fastball. This season however, was cut short after Aaron broke his ankle on a slide into 3rd Base.

 In 1955, Aaron played in his first of 21 All-Star Games. He finished the season hitting .314, with 27 home runs and 106 RBIs.

 Over the next 18 years, from 1956 through 1973, Aaron never hit more than 47 or fewer than 24 home runs, leading the league 4 times in this span. In addition he was an effective run producer, leading the league in runs scored 3 times and RBIs 4 times.

 In 1974, following a 40 home run 1973 season, Aaron needed only one more home run to tie the unbreakable home run mark set by Ruth. On April 4th, in Cincinnati, on a 3-1 pitch from Jack Billingham, Aaron hit his 714th home run in his 11,289th career at bat.

 Four days later, on April 8th, at 9:07PM, in front of the largest crowd ever at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, with the Los Angeles Dodgers leading 3-1 in the bottom of the 4th; Aaron hit number 715 on a 1-0 Al Downing fastball.

 That off-season, after having fallen to an, up till then, second lowest season total of 20 home runs, Henry Aaron was traded to the American League Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Dave May and pitcher Roger Alexander.

 With the Ruth home run mark broken, his declining numbers and the trade, many people were expecting Aaron to retire. Aaron was however delighted to be returning to Milwaukee, where he felt he was much more appreciated by the fans than in Atlanta. Aaron stuck around Milwaukee, primarily as a Designated Hitter, playing in 137 games in 1975 and 85 in 1976, long enough to also break the Ruth career RBI mark.

 Henry Aaron need make no excuses about his long career. His constancy at the plate and all-around skills clearly make him one of the All-Time greats in baseball. He is truly deserving of his place in Baseball's Hall of Fame, which he was elected into in 1982.

 Many people feel that Aaron has been slighted, because Ruth was white and Aaron a black man. This is clearly not the case. Aaron is the All-Time Home Run and RBI leader. But where as it took Aaron 11,289 at bats to hit 714 home runs, with a career average of a home run every 16.38 at bats, Ruth in his entire career had only 8,399 at bats, hitting a homer every 11.76 at bats. 

Ruth also had the benefit of 10 World Series appearances, to Aaron and his 2, both of which were early in his career. Additionally, there is no doubt that the Yankee "mystique" is much more powerful than that of the Braves. However, one must keep in mind that the Yankee mystique was largely created by Ruth.

 Henry Aaron was one of several exceptional players in his era, possibly the best of them. Babe Ruth was the exceptional player in his era, absolutely the best in his time. And this, in the opinion of Bucketfoot, is the only way to truly compare players or performances between different eras.

 So let us all hear it for both Henry Louis "Hammerin' Hank" Aaron, the All-Time Home Run and RBI Leader and George Herman "Babe, The Sultan of Swat" Ruth, the Greatest Slugger of All-Time.


© Bucketfoot Baseball Publications, 1999