fb-pixel Skip to main content

Looking back at Hank Aaron’s life, legendary career, and MLB records

Hank Aaron celebrates with his Braves teammates after hitting his 715th career home run on April 8, 1974, breaking Babe Ruth's record.
Hank Aaron celebrates with his Braves teammates after hitting his 715th career home run on April 8, 1974, breaking Babe Ruth's record.

Hank Aaron, who endured racist threats with stoic dignity during his pursuit of Babe Ruth’s home run record and gracefully left his mark as one of baseball’s greatest all-around players, died Friday. He was 86.

Read the full obituary on Aaron here.

A timeline of Aaron’s life and career

1934: Born Feb. 5 in a section of Mobile, Ala., known as “Down The Bay.”

1951: Signs at age 17 with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League, where he plays shortstop and draws the attention of major league scouts.

1952: Signs with the Boston Braves, turning down a slightly lower offer from the New York Giants that could’ve paired him in the same outfield with Willie Mays.

Advertisement



1954: Earns a spot in the big leagues with the Braves, who had moved to Milwaukee before the 1953 season. After going 0 for 5 in his debut on April 13, Aaron hits .280 with 13 homers and 69 RBIs to finish fourth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.

1957: Earns his only NL MVP award, leading the league with 44 homers and 132 RBIs while batting .322. The Braves win the pennant and defeat Mickey Mantle’s New York Yankees in seven games for what would be the only World Series championship of Aaron’s career. He is one of the standouts of the Series, hitting .393 with 3 homers and 7 RBIs.

1958: Braves repeat as NL champions and again face the Yankees in the World Series. Milwaukee is within one victory of its second straight championship but loses the final three games. Aaron hits .333 with 2 RBIs in the series.

1963: Nearly wins the Triple Crown, leading the league with 44 homers and 130 RBIs but losing out on the batting title to Tommy Davis of the Los Angeles Dodgers (.326 to .319). Aaron does become only the third player in major league history to make the 30-30 club with a career-best 31 stolen bases.

Advertisement



1966: The Braves move from Milwaukee to Atlanta, becoming the first major league team in the Deep South at a time when the region is still embroiled in the fight over civil rights.

1968: Hits his 500th homer against Mike McCormick of the San Francisco Giants on July 14.

1969: Makes his final postseason appearance when the Braves win the NL West title in baseball’s first year under a new divisional format. Atlanta is swept by New York’s Amazin’ Mets in three games in the inaugural league championship series, even though Aaron hits .357 with 3 homers and 7 RBIs.

1970: Collects his 3,000th hit against Wayne Simpson of the Cincinnati Reds on May 17, becoming the first player to reach 500 homers and 3,000 hits.

1971: Hits his 600th career homer off San Francisco’s Gaylord Perry on April 27, joining Mays and Babe Ruth as the only players to reach that milestone.

1972: Passes Mays for second place on the career homer list, finishing the season with 673 and setting his sights on Ruth’s record of 714.

1973: Hits his 700th homer off Philadelphia’s Ken Brett on July 21. Aaron finishes the season one shy of Ruth’s record.

1974: Despite intense pressure and death threats that required constant security, Aaron ties Ruth’s mark on opening day in his first at-bat of the season, going deep off Cincinnati’s Jack Billingham at Riverfront Stadium on April 4.

Advertisement



1974: Becomes baseball’s new home run king on April 8 in the Braves’ home opener at Atlanta Stadium. Before a record crowd of more than 53,000 and a national television audience, Aaron hits a 1-and-0 pitch from Al Downing of the Dodgers over the left-field fence for his 715th homer.

The front page of the April 9, 1974, edition of the Boston Globe.
The front page of the April 9, 1974, edition of the Boston Globe.Globe archives

1975: After turning down a front-office offer from the Braves that paid significantly less money, Aaron is traded to Milwaukee to serve as the Brewers’ designated hitter and finish his career where it started. He hits .234 with 12 homers and 60 RBIs and makes the last of his record 25 All-Star Game appearances at County Stadium, lining out to shortstop as a pinch hitter in the second inning.

1976: Hits his 755th and final home run July 20 at Milwaukee’s County Stadium off Dick Drago of the California Angels. Aaron retires at age 42 after hitting just .229 with 10 homers and 35 RBIs in the final season of his 23-year career.

1977: Makes amends with the Braves, beginning a long stint in the front office.

1982: Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot, coming nine votes short of being the first unanimous selection.

1989: Moves into a largely ceremonial role with the Braves after being in charge of player development.

1999: Honored by Major League Baseball with the institution of the Hank Aaron Award for the top hitter in each league, akin to the Cy Young Award for pitchers.

Advertisement



2002: Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush, who honors Aaron with the nation’s highest civilian honor for overcoming “poverty and racism to become one of the most accomplished baseball players of all time.”

2021: Died in his sleep on Jan. 22.

Facts to know

Teams

Milwaukee Braves (1954-65), Atlanta Braves (1966-74), Milwaukee Brewers (1975-76)

Records

RBIs: 2,297

Extra-base hits: 1,477

Total bases: 6,856

Played in 25 All-Star games in 23 seasons (some years had two All-Star Games)

World Series appearances

1957 (Braves defeated the Yankees, 4-3); 1958 (Braves lost to the Yankees, 4-3)

Other postseason appearance

1969 (Braves lost to the New York Mets, 3-0, in NL Championship Series)

Awards and accolades

National League MVP (1957); NL batting champion (1956, 1959); NL home run leader (1957, 1963, 1966, 1967); NL RBI leader (1957, 1960, 1963, 1966); NL Gold Glove (1958, 1959, 1960); Baseball Hall of Fame (1982); Presidential Medal of Freedom (2002)

Noteworthy

First player to reach 500 homers and 3,000 hits; never struck out 100 times in a season

Third player in baseball history after Ken Williams and Willie Mays with at least 30 homers and 30 stolen bases in a season (1963)

Finished in top 10 of NL MVP balloting 13 times

Finished with a career average of .305

20 straight seasons with at least 20 homers

Eight 40-homer seasons

Six seasons with more than 20 stolen bases

Beginnings

Started pro career at age 17 with Indianapolis Clowns of Negro American League.