“I couldn’t believe there was so much hatred in people. It’s something I’m still trying to get over, and maybe I never will.” – Hank Aaron
Those of you who know me personally, and any of you who’ve followed me online for any period of time, likely know that I was a Strat-O-Matic addict as a kid. I probably played 10,000 games using the player cards from 1983-87, so I can tell you exactly how good every player of that era was. If you wanted to know if their reputations matched their on-field value, you can still ask me, because I know.
One of the coolest things Strat-O-Matic ever did was to start introducing complete seasons with every player from previous eras. 1956 was the first season I chose – I wanted to see how the players of 1956 stacked up against players from my era. Part of me wanted to know – consciously or not – if the players my father always told me were great, were in fact great, and if so…how great?
I’m writing that to give you some context as I tell you I found out pretty quickly that Hank Aaron was pretty expletive great. If anything, better than advertised. He was a plus right fielder and plus base runner who won batting titles.
Oh, he had a little pop in the bat too.
Aaron was part of a group from a span of about five years that included Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, Willie Mays, Monte Irvin, and Ernie Banks among others, who left the Negro leagues to enter MLB. In doing so, they showed everyone what had been missed the previous half-century – most of our imaginations are still running wild…
Normally this is where I’d go into a paragraph or two with some statistics to reinforce just how great Aaron was, but that’s not necessary. It doesn’t matter if you like stats and it doesn’t matter what kind of stats you like if you like them. He was one of the best players to ever walk on a baseball field, by any measurement. It would be impossible to keep him out of your top 10 best of all-time list, and you can certainly justify having him as high as number three.
You like career counting stats like hits, home runs and RBI? He was one of the best.
You like averages like batting, on base percentage and slugging? He was one of the best.
You like stats that weight and account for era like OPS+ and wRC+? He was one of the best.
You like all-encompassing stats like WAR? He was one of the best.
And he was one of the best if you measure players by their peak or by the totality of their careers. Again, it doesn’t matter – he was one of the best either way.
It shouldn’t need to be mentioned, but it can’t go without saying, that he did all of it while dealing with levels of ignorance and animosity people like me will never know. Let’s carry that in our memories as we remember one of the best to ever step on a field.
RIP Mr. Aaron