A Biography in 1,000 Players No. 3 Hank Aaron (Number 2 Right Field)

I was wondering about putting Hank Aaron ahead of Barry Bonds, but Bill James had a series of polls on the greatest living player. Hank Aaron met Barry Bonds in the semi-finals. Hank won. So, there I was in the majority. Willie Mays, my number 1, beat Hank Aaron in the final, easily winning.

Hank Aaron started off playing for the Braves in Milwaukee, which was a difficult home run park, but Hank despite not being the biggest guy hit about 40 home runs a year there. Then the Braves and Hank moved to Atlanta where to one of the easier home run parks. It was good timing for Hank as he started to age so he would hit 40 home runs a year there. His favorite total was 44 which was his number. He did this enough that he eventually broke Babe Ruth’s record of 714 career home runs.

I was in Junior High when it happened. To capture the event for the nation (and help ratings) NBC put the Braves on Monday night baseball after Aaron had tied the record two games earlier. I was on the track team (the slowest guy in a running event on the track team) and we were in the locker room after practice. Guys were predicting what inning Hank Aaron was going to hit the home run, among other things like how many men on base, number of outs and the count. I said he probably won’t hit it tonight as it was hard to hit a home run that often and he was getting old. No one listened to that, so I made a prediction.

My prediction was almost dead on. I had the inning right, the number of people on base and who would be on base. I also said he would be on base via a walk. When Hank was due up that inning, I told my brother (who wasn’t much of a sports fan) my prediction. When Aaron came up, we both believed he was going to do it. We told my Mom to come watch, but she ignored us. She wasn’t a big baseball fan either. My brother and went crazy when Aaron hit the home run. First thing my best friend said to me the next morning was wow you were almost completely right with your prediction.

The funny thing about my Mom is in 1980 when the U.S. play the Russians in that Miracle on Ice game she was interested in that game. We lived in North Dakota and had a couple of Canadian channels. So we got to watch Hockey Night in Canada and the Canadian coverage of the Olympics, which is some ways was better than the U.S. coverage. One way was that you could see the afternoon hockey games live. I was in college at the time but lived at home. I came home in time for the game but forgot about it and was doing my homework. About 20 minutes into the game I sat back and said “oh my, the game is being played. I turned on the game and the U.S. were down 2-1. My Mother was doing cleaning or something, but she kept asking me what the score was, and seemed disappointed that the U.S. was down a goal. I explained we should be proud if they just stayed within a couple of goals of the Russians.

The U.S. tied the game at the end of the first period but gave up the only goal in the second period. I told my Mom they were down but playing real good defense. I was starting to have some hope based on my Mom’s optimism. In the third period after the U.S. tied them with about 12 minutes left, my Mom started to watch with me. After the U.S. went ahead at the 10-minute mark neither one of us sat down for the rest of the game. We celebrated when the US won and watched the game later that night on ABC.
The fun part on ABC was they were trying to keep the U.S. win a secret. However, I think anyone who had half an interest in the game knew the U.S. had won.

I did this study for Bill James Online where I developed a formula for the player who had the best leadoff statistics of the year, that I called the Rickey Awards. The awards were named after Rickey Henderson, the greatest leadoff man of all time (spoiler alert) and number 14 player on my all-time list. I figured the winner for each Major League season in history. Then I would figure out who did the best for the decade. For the National League in the 1960s I thought either Willie Mays (who could do everything will) or Lou Brock (an actual leadoff hitter who was a great base stealer) would be the best of the decade. Even after I completed the 10 years and before I added the totals, I thought it was one of the two. Imagine my surprise when the winner was Hank Aaron, even after I double checked my figures. That quiet Hank Aaron had done it again.

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