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Hank Aaron - Played In Negro League And Major League

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On November 20, 1951, 18-year-old Aaron was signed by scout Ed Scott to play shortstop for the Negro League team the Indianapolis Clowns. Leaving home for the first time, he relocated to the Midwest, where he helped the Clowns to a 1952 Negro League World Series victory. Yet Aaron was with the Negro League for only about six months before he received two telegram offers from major league teams—one from the San Francisco Giants and one from the Milwaukee Braves. Thinking he'd have a better chance to make the team, Aaron chose the Braves over the Giants, who had star player Willie Mays.

Sold to the Milwaukee team for $10,000, Aaron signed with Braves' scout Dewey Griggs on June 14, 1952. His first assignment was to the team's farm club in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Playing second base in the farm club, Aaron was named Northern League Rookie of the Year in 1952. "[I]t wasn't too much of a transition from playing the type of baseball that we played in the Negro League to playing professional baseball," Aaron told Tavis Smiley of National Public Radio (NPR). "The difference, of course, was that instead of making $400 a month, I was making $600 a month. Instead of getting $2 a day meal money, I was getting $3 a day meal money. So it wasn't that much of a difference."

The following year Aaron played for the Braves' affiliate team in the South Atlantic League, the Jacksonville Tars. As one of the first five African Americans to play in the "Sally League," Aaron faced racial discrimination in the segregated South. He was separated from his teammates while traveling by bus, and often had to make his own arrangements for housing and meals. Despite these indignities, Aaron helped lead Jacksonville to a pennant win and was named the league's Most Valuable Player. He had led the league in everything from batting average (.362) and RBI (125) to runs (115) and hits (208).

While playing winter ball in Puerto Rico in 1953, Aaron learned to play the outfield. This new skill would come in handy the following spring, when an injury sidelined Braves left fielder Bobby Thomson. Aaron stepped in to take his place in the outfield, making his major league debut at age 20. In March 1954 he hit his first major-league home run during spring training. He made his official debut at the Braves'April 13 game against the Cincinnati Reds. Ten days later he hit his first major league home run. Aaron stopped just short of completing his first season with the Braves, breaking his ankle in early September and sitting out the rest of the year.

Chronology

1934 Born on February 5, 1934, in Mobile, Alabama
1951 Signed by the Indianapolis Clowns
1952 Helps lead Clowns to victory in Negro World Series
1952 Signed by Milwaukee Braves; wins Northern League Rookie of the Year
1953 Plays for Jacksonville Tars; named South Atlantic League's Most Valuable Player
1953 Marries Barbara Lucas
1954 Joins Milwaukee Braves as outfielder
1955 Plays in first of 24 All-Star Games
1956 Leads league in batting average
1962 With teammates Eddie Matthews, Joe Adcock, and Frank Thomas, becomes first of four players ever to hit consecutive home runs in a game
1966 Moves with Braves to Atlanta; leads league in home runs
1968 Hits 500th home run
1971 Divorces Barbara Lucas
1972 Hits 649th home run, tie with Willie Mays for second place in career home runs
1973 Marries Billye Williams
1974 Hits 715th home run, surpassing Babe Ruth to take first place in career home runs
1975 Transfers to Milwaukee Brewers
1975 Sets record for baseball's highest-ever RBI (2,212)
1976 Retires from playing career; rejoins Atlanta Braves as coach and manager
1990 Becomes senior vice president and assistant to president of Atlanta Braves
1991 Publishes autobiography I Had a Hammer

Awards and Accomplishments

1955-76 Played in All-Star Games
1956, 1959 Won National League batting title
1957 Won Most Valuable Player Award
1957, 1960, 1963, 1966 Named leader of league in RBI
1957, 1963, 1966-67 Named leader of league in home runs
1958-60 Won Golden Glove Award
1974 Broke Babe Ruth's career home run record
1976 Awarded Spingarn Medal from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
1982 Inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame

Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream

Director Mike Tollin's 1995 television documentary Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream was a paean to the legendary baseball player, celebrating his life with archival film footage, photographs, re-creations of events, and present-day interviews. The documentary positioned Aaron as a major player in the American civil rights movement, the seeds of which were planted as early as the 1940s, and which came to fruition in the 1970s, at the end of Aaron's career. Some critics questioned the filmmaker's decision not to include Aaron as a narrator or even as an interviewee; Tollin chose instead to create a mystique about the athlete. Nonetheless, Chasing the Dream received a 1996 Academy Award nomination. The documentary aired on TBS on April 12, 1995, four days after the 20-year anniversary of Aaron's home run title.

It did not take Aaron long to regain his footing. In 1955 he moved to right field, where he would remain for most of his career and earn three Golden Glove Awards; in batting, he averaged. 314 and hit 27 home runs. In July he played in his first All-Star Game. The following season his batting average edged up to%. 328, leading to his first of two National League batting titles. By 1957 the 23-year-old player seemed at the peak of his powers, leading the league with his batting prowess. In a game that led the Braves to a pennant win, Aaron scored a heroic home run in the eleventh inning and was carried off the field by his teammates. He went on to average.393 and hit three home runs in the 1957 World Series, helping the Braves to victory over the New York Yankees.

Hank Aaron, swinging bat

In October he was named the league's Most Valuable Player for the first and only time of his career.

Now a full-fledged baseball superstar, Aaron began racking up home runs. The six-foot, 180-pound player took his power not from his heft but from his strong, supple wrists and his deft swing. "I looked for one pitch my whole career, a breaking ball," he told David Hinckley of the New York Daily News. "I never worried about the fastball. They couldn't throw it by me, none of them."

In June 1959, after hitting three homers in a single game against the San Francisco Giants, Aaron was paid $30,000 to appear on the television show Home Run Derby. After this experience, which earned him nearly as much as his annual salary, Aaron altered his hitting style to bring in even more home runs. Defending this choice, he once said, "I noticed that they never had a show called 'Singles Derby,'" according to the Sporting News. In June 1962 he and teammates Eddie Matthews, Joe Adcock, and Frank Thomas became the first four players ever to hit consecutive home runs in a game.

Hank Aaron - Chronology [next]

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