Today in our MLB Monday piece, we noted the solid rookie season of Hall of Fame legend Hank Aaron, who just passed away on Friday, January 22. Other people generally smarter than us have outlined why his career was unique and unrivaled in history; we’re here to point out some different things that should be obvious.
In 1954, Aaron batted .280 with 13 home runs and 69 RBI, and at age 20, his OPS was a middling .769 for the season in 122 games. His OPS would never again dip below .832 for a MLB season until 1975—when the Hammer was 41 years old. He only led the National League in OPS three times in his career, but Aaron was very good for a very long time.
One of the most amazing things about Aaron is that even though he hit the famed 755 home runs—without an asterisk, of course—he also walked more times in his career (1,402) than he struck out (1,383). Even at age 42, in his final year, he only struck out 38 times compared to his 35 walks. That’s a batting eye hard to fathom these days, when HR sluggers routinely approach 200 strikeouts in a season.
Another statistic that stands out to us: Over a 9-season span (1960-1968), Aaron stole a total of 195 bases and only got caught 50 times in that span. For a guy who was 26 years old in 1960, those are pretty incredible numbers—because he also hit 331 HRs in those 9 seasons. Long before base stealing was in vogue, Aaron put up a 30-30 season with relative ease (1963). Even when he was 34 years old, Aaron hit 29 HRs and stole 28 bases while walking 64 times and only striking out 62 times.
His stat sheet is full of interesting tidbits like this, so we won’t bore readers with them, but we will touch upon a few last things here:
- Even though Aaron predominantly played right field, he did play center field as a primary position in both 1961 and 1962, finishing with a combined 2.3 dWAR in those two seasons where he also spent time in right field, at first base, and at third base. That’s some impressive defensive versatility;
- His only NL MVP Award came in 1957 when he posted 8.0 WAR for the Milwaukee Braves. However, he equaled or surpassed that WAR mark seven other times in his career without ever winning another MVP Award. We do wonder if we will be awarding him more awards in our weekly series over the next handful of months;
- Finally, when smarter people than us suggested PED users should lose one third of their career stats (at least), it resonated well with us. After all, we can’t stand cheaters—still eyeing your bullshit, Tom Brady—and Aaron didn’t cheat. We know Hammerin’ Hank is still the real HR king for this reason.
He always remained classy about things that happened after he retired, however, as Aaron said this less than a year ago: “It’s hard for me to digest.” You’re not alone, Hank: It makes us sick to our stomachs, too.