It is wonderful to know that Henry Aaron and the legendary hockey commentator Don Cherry were born on the same day in 1934. I always love it when two famous people who have absolutely nothing to do with each other are connected by a birthday. The most famous of these, I think, are Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, both born February 12, 1809.
Henry Aaron still has the record for most total bases in a career — he doesn’t just have the record, he has 700 more total bases than Stan Musial, who is second, and 1,000-plus more total bases than Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb or Pete Rose. This is the record, I think, that defines Henry Aaron. He has an almost unbelievable 6,856 total bases. Last year, Miguel Cabrera led baseball with 377 total bases — this in his Triple Crown year. He’d have to repeat that 18 times to match Aaron.
Let’s just look at Aaron for 13 seasons — 1955 to 1967.
1955: Led league in doubles.
1956: Led league in hits, doubles, batting average and total bases.
1957: Led league in runs, homers and RBIs.
1958: Won Gold Glove, 4th in average, 3rd in slugging, 3rd in runs, hits total bases, 5th in homers.
1959: Led league in hits, batting average, slugging percentage and OPS. Won Gold Glove.
1960: Led league in RBIs and total bases. Won Gold Glove.
1961: Led league in games, doubles and total bases.
1962: Fifth in average, 2nd in slugging, 4th in runs, 3rd in total bases, 2nd in homers.
1963: Led league in runs, homers, RBIs, slugging OPS, total bases and had 30 homer, 30 stolen base season.
1964: Third in average, 5th in runs scored, 6th in stolen bases.
1965: Led league in doubles.
1966: Led league in homers and RBIs.
1967: Led league in runs, homers, slugging and total bases.
Down year? The guy just didn’t have them. And remember, he was doing this in a league that, through the years, had Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Ernie Banks, Willie Stargell, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and other amazing hitters. In all, Aaron has 36 bold numbers on his Baseball Reference page, indicating that he led the league in those categories, and this does not even include the times he led the the league in sac flies, intentional walks and grounding into double plays. And it’s not like he stopped hitting in 1967. In 1969, he hit .300 with 44 homers. In 1970, he hit .298 with 38 homers. In 1971, at 37, he hit 47 homers and led league in slugging again. He had one more 40 homer season, in 1973, when he was 39.
He was so good, so often, that it’s very hard to pick out Hank Aaron’s best season. His best offensive season was probably 1963, when he hit .319/.391/.586 with 44 homers, 130 RBIs, 121 runs and 200 hits. Then again, it could have been 1959, when he hit .355/.401/.636 with 46 doubles, 39 homers, 123 RBIs, 116 runs and 223 hits. Then there was his MVP season of 1956, when he hit .322/.378/.600 with 44 homers, 132 RBIs and 118 runs.
His breathtaking consistency probably did cause many people to underrate him for a long time — breathtaking consistency often does that. That was the Musial thing too. You just get accustomed to that sort of excellence, like eyes getting used to the dark.
But it’s that sort of breathtaking consistency that creates masterpieces. When people talk about Aaron, they usually talk about his 755 home runs and breaking Babe Ruth’s record. And there’s something to that: Aaron, it’s well known, never hit 50 homers in a season. He never hit 49 or 48 either. You look through the years, and you see there were better home run hitters in individual seasons. Ernie Banks outhomered him for a while. Eddie Mathews outhomered him for a while. Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson, Roger Maris, Ted Kluszewski, Willie Stargell, all these men hit more homers in a season than Henry Aaron ever did. But the next year, Aaron was back, and the next year, and the next year after that …
But I don’t think it’s the home run record that defines his amazing career. Barry Bonds broke Aaron’s home run record with a historic and obviously suspect rush of 317 homers after he turned 35 years old. The home run record, by its nature, might be broken that way. Guys can hit a lot of home runs in a very short period of time — heck, Alex Rodriguez has 647 homers — within 108 of Aaron.
But A-Rod is 1,400 total bases shy Aaron, which is miles and miles and miles.