Night of the Hammer

Tonight’s all about Bad Henry. Not much left to say, but here are some essential facts about Number 44, excerpted from a terrific 2007 SI profile by Tom Verducci.

While he was born in a section of town referred to as “Down the Bay,” he spent most of his youth in Toulminville. Aaron grew up poor and his family couldn’t afford baseball equipment so he had to hit bottle caps with sticks.

Hank made do.

In 1953, at age 19, only one year removed from hitting cross-handed for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro leagues, he was one of five players thrust into the integration of the Class A South Atlantic League, in the heart of Dixie. Aaron could not eat in the same restaurants, sleep in the same hotels or drink from the same fountains as his white teammates. Fans heaped racially charged insults at the teenager. A white teammate, Joe Andrews, bat in hand, would escort him out of the ballpark after games. And lo, Aaron hit .362 and was named the league’s MVP.

Those kind of seasons would become routine.

Aaron was such a masterly hitter that he would have passed 3,000 hits even if he had never hit a home run. Pick any star who ever played the game and give him 180 additional homers, and Aaron still would have more total bases

So get there early tonight and show the great man the respect he deserves.

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2 comments

  1. I tend toward hyperbole when it comes to Henry Louis Aaron. But I really believe that for a lot of white kids growing up in the 1970s South, like me, the Greatest Brave of Them All did an immense service not just for our appreciation of baseball and the Braves, but also for our racial attitudes. To me, and most of us I’d venture to say, Henry wasn’t a black man chasing a hallowed record held by a white guy. Henry in those days was the Braves. They were our team, but they weren’t any good. Yet amid that mediocrity, there was a proud, dignified gentleman of the game, one of the greatest to ever play.

    He was a real hero to me and to many others of my generation. Of course we realized he was black. It simply didn’t matter. It really didn’t. When Henry hit 714 at Cincinnati on Opening Day, my mom called my grammar school and they announced it over the intercom. She called the school mainly to let me know, and, of course, I was ecstatic. The point of all this is that Henry Louis Aaron became one of the first people to transcend race, in a real way, for a bunch of little white dudes in a South that was still largely segregated. That’s a pretty big deal.

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