COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Hank Aaron’s career was defined by one word: Consistency. Year after year, he put together fabulous seasons, eventually earning a trip to Cooperstown.
Fifty-seven years ago this week, on April 13, 1954, Aaron began his illustrious major league career with an 0-for-5 day in a 9-8 loss to Cincinnati. His teammates on the Milwaukee Braves connected on seven of the 13 doubles the game produced. Future Hall of Famer Eddie Matthews hit two home runs for the Braves.
Aaron batted fifth in the lineup that day and wore No. 5, but soon switched to his legendary No. 44.
“The first time I saw him in spring training he had ‘major league’ written all over him,” said four time All-Star Andy Pafko, “…One of those guys that only comes around every hundred years.”
Aaron put together a solid rookie season batting .280, hitting 13 home runs and driving in 69 runs, earning him a fourth-place finish in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
The Braves finished third in the National League in ’54 with an 89-65 record. Matthews, who had just broken into the league two years prior, had his second consecutive 40-home run season.
It took the Braves a few years after Aaron’s arrival to put it all together and reach the postseason. In the year of 1957, Aaron showed his immense talent by hitting .322 with 44 home runs and 132 RBI’s. He took home the MVP that year and made his first World Series.
No surprises, yet again, that Aaron’s consistency carried over to the postseason as well. He helped the Braves not only in ’57 but in ’58, as well, to reach the World Series both times against the New York Yankees.
Both Series went to the maximum seventh game. The Braves won in ’57 and the Yankees in ’58. Hammerin’ Hank hit better than .300 in each Series and connected for three home runs en route to his only World Series title.
His only other postseason experience came in ’69 against the New York Mets. Even though the Braves, by this time in Atlanta, got swept, Aaron hit .357 and hit three home runs against the eventual World Champions.
Although Aaron is best remembered for breaking Babe Ruth’s career home run record, his offensive game had so much more than just everyday power hitter. In 23 seasons of play, he compiled a .305 average, while not only attaining the home run title, he also accumulated a record number of total bases, extra-base hits and RBI that still stand today. Even without his 755 home runs, Aaron still had more than 3,000 career hits.
Kevin Stiner is the spring 2011 Public Relations intern for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum