9 facts about Aaron you may not know

Even more legends about Hammerin' Hank

January 22nd, 2021

On Jan. 22, baseball lost one of its very best both on and off the field: Hammerin' Hank Aaron passed away at the age of 86. The iconic slugger was a true five-tool talent, displaying not just a powerful bat, but lightning sharp wrists and Gold Glove-worthy defense -- all while battling racism throughout his career, as well as death threats as he approached Babe Ruth's then-home run record.

But while you may know he hit 755 home runs, and perhaps you can even recite word-for-word both Milo Hamilton and Vin Scully's calls of his 715th, there are still some things you may not know from Aaron's legendary 23-year big league career. Here are nine of them:

1. Aaron began his career as a shortstop in the Negro Leagues

Before Aaron was the Hall of Fame outfielder we know today, he was a scrawny 17-year-old infielder from Mobile, Ala., who signed with the nearby semi-pro Mobile Black Bears in 1951. Being so young, Aaron's mother didn't want him traveling far from home and so Aaron only played in the local home games. Still, that was enough for Bunny Downs, a scout for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League, to sign Aaron to a contract for $200 a month.

Only 18 in 1952, Aaron still paced the league with a .467 batting average and helped the Clowns win the World Series over the Birmingham Black Barons.

2. Aaron won his first big league starting job because of an injury to Bobby Thomson

After spending the 1953 season in the Minors -- bashing .362 with 22 home runs -- Aaron broke into the Major Leagues with the Braves the next season as the team's starting left fielder. But he only got that opportunity because the team's original left fielder, Thomson -- who famously won the pennant for the New York Giants with his "Shot Heard Round the World" in 1951 -- broke his ankle while sliding into second base during a Spring Training game.

The next day, Aaron went 2-for-4 and the job was his.

Speaking of the Giants ...

3. $50 is all that kept Aaron from playing in the same outfield as Willie Mays

There's an extremely short list of players who can be considered the greatest outfielder of all-time, and Mays and Aaron are both on it. Unbelievably, the two were nearly teammates. 

Two teams made offers to sign Aaron from the Indianapolis Clowns in 1952 -- the Boston Braves and the New York Giants. But the Braves offered Aaron $50 more a month, so the choice was easy: Sign with them.

“Imagine,” Aaron said years later, “for the difference of $100 a month I could have been in the same outfield with Willie Mays.”

Who knows how many World Series titles the Giants would have won with half of the 3,000-hit, 600-home run club in one outfield.

4. He played alongside his brother, Tommie, for seven seasons

Eight years after Hank made his big league debut, his younger brother Tommie broke in with the Braves in 1962. Playing mostly first base, Tommie hit eight home runs that year and finished his career with 13. That gave the duo the record for the most home runs by brothers with 768, though Hank hit 98 percent of the dingers between them.

Though Tommie didn't hit many home runs, he did hit one in the same inning as his older brother. On July 12, 1962, the Braves scored five runs in the bottom of the ninth to defeat the Cardinals, 8-6. Tommie started the scoring with a solo home run, while Hank finished it off with a walk-off grand slam.

After his career ended, Tommie became a coach for the Braves organization until he passed away from leukemia in 1984.

5. Aaron hit the first pennant-winning walk-off home run in the regular season

Because of the current postseason setup, this one can't even happen any longer, but it doesn't change how cool it was. The Braves held a six-game lead over the Cardinals -- the only team that could catch them -- when the two teams squared off on Sept. 23, 1957.

With the score tied at 2 in the bottom of the 11th, Aaron came to the plate with one on and two out to face Cardinals right-hander Billy Muffett. He blasted the pitch over the center-field fence to win the pennant and Aaron's teammates carried him on their shoulders to celebrate the victory.

Doyle Getter wrote in the Milwaukee Journal that "hats and scorecards and streamers and torn-up paper were thrown into the air. The din was so loud you couldn’t hear the person standing next to you. Fans jumped up and down and screamed. The entire Braves’ dugout poured out onto the field and mobbed Aaron as he reached home plate. He was swallowed in a swirling, pounding mass of delirious players and coaches.”

6. He was an Eagle Scout

How Aaron ever found time to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout -- the highest rank in the Boy Scouts -- while also starting his pro baseball career at 17 is something we may never know. But he pulled it off. Aaron fondly remembered directing traffic as a scout down the busy main thoroughfare in Mobile and even recorded a commercial for the Scouts in the 1970s:

7. Davey Johnson was waiting to bat when both Aaron and Sadaharu Oh hit their 715th homers

You want to talk about weird coincidences? Then try this one on for size. When Aaron broke Babe Ruth's record in 1974, Johnson was getting ready to hit two batters later.

Two years later, Johnson was playing in Japan with the Yomiuri Giants when Oh hit his 715th home run. That time? Johnson was on-deck.

While Oh would finish his career with 868 home runs to become the world's home run champ, he lost in a head-to-head battle against the Hammer.

Aaron joined the Mets for a tour of Japan following the 1974 season, so he and Oh faced off in a home run derby. Though Aaron was 40 and Oh just 34, Aaron emerged victorious, 10 home runs to 9.

Afterward, Aaron correctly predicted that Oh had a shot to hit over 800. He then added, "Winning today’s contest proves nothing. If there is any meaning, it is that we made the fans happy.”

8. Aaron and Al Downing re-created that 715th home run

Though he'll always be remembered for giving up Aaron's record-breaking home run, Downing had a fine Major League career of his own. The pitcher won 123 games across a 17-year career, including 20 in 1971 for the Dodgers when he finished third in the Cy Young voting.

Still, in 1984 -- long after both he and Aaron retired -- the two got together to recreate that magical home run.

While we don't know how many times they attempted it, just compare it to the real thing. Yeah, they nailed it:

9. Aaron holds the record for most All-Star Game appearances

Befitting his stature as perhaps the most consistent slugger in baseball history, Aaron was also elected to the most All-Star Games in history. Aaron was on the roster for 21 midseason All-Star Games -- missing out only in his rookie season and in his final season with the Brewers when he played in only 85 games. That’s one more than Willie Mays and Stan Musial.

However, Aaron also made it into four more All-Star Games. That's because from 1959-62, there were two All-Star Games played every year to help raise money for the player's pension. Sure enough, Aaron made it to each of those, as well, meaning that he not only holds the record, but that his record will almost certainly never be surpassed.