By In Stuff

Feb. 5 Birthday: Henry Aaron

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.

Well, this is what happens when you have TWENTY CONSECUTIVE awesome seasons.

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.

28 Responses to Feb. 5 Birthday: Henry Aaron

  1. Tonus says:

    I think that Aaron probably got more recognition for his complete performance before he approached (and finally surpassed) the career home run record. After that, the HR record defined him. Yet he did everything well. He’s still third on the all-time hits list, and for a long time was second. Yet I can’t recall hearing about that.

    It’s a measure of how great he was, that it’s easy to ignore so many amazing things he did while still marveling at the other amazing things he did. To say nothing of what an amazing human being he is.

  2. David says:

    Isn’t the TB thing kind of a tricky one, though? For example, walks and HBP are positive offensive events not counted by TB. Include them, and you’ve got the following list:

    Bonds – 8534
    Aaron – 8258
    Ruth – 7855
    Musial – 7733
    Mays – 7530

    That’s a lot more guys within shouting distance of Aaron, and one actually pulls ahead of him. So while I agree that Aaron is one of the most remarkable players of all-time, and he’s a personal favorite of mine (even though I never saw him play – I’m a Milwaukee boy, and Hammerin’ Hank is baseball royalty there), his TB record is mostly a matter of how we compute “bases,” in which we don’t include all positive offensive events. Just a thought.

    • Add stolen bases minus caught stealing, and your totals go up to these:

      Bonds – 8907
      Aaron – 8425
      Ruth – 7861- (cs incomplete)
      Musial – 7780- (ditto)
      Mays – 7765

      Of course, Aaron prolonged his career by means of stubbornness and determination. Bonds, well. . . .

    • They both prolonged their career by means of stubbornness, determination, and illegal PEDs. Amphetamines were no more legal during Aaron’s career than steroids were during Bonds’s.

    • Ian R. says:

      Of course, Bonds’ total is inflated by his historically huge number of intentional walks. Remove his (and Aaron’s), and we get: 7965 for Aaron, 7846 for Bonds.

      Quite a lot closer, and of course if you include steals as David in Toledo did Bonds is still ahead. But if we’re just counting bases accumulated at the plate, not on the basepaths or by means of the IBB, Aaron is still the all-time champ.

    • schuyler101 says:

      Why are we arbitrarily removing intentional walks?

    • Scott says:

      @Chris there’s a difference. People quoting amphetamines have a point on legality, but amphetamines hurt performance long term in return for that short energy boost, and PED’s help long term performance. So stat to stat a roid guy gets a boost while a greeny guy gets none.

    • @Scott,

      What’s your evidence that greenies hurt performance long-term? It sure didn’t appear to hurt the greenie generation, given that you’re talking about the generation that essentially created the 300 win club and, to a lesser extent, the 500 home run club. You’re also talking about the generation that saw two of the top three in base hits all time. It’s pretty clear, looking at that generation, that greenies did nothing to hurt long-term performance and almost certainly lengthened careers.

      I’ll also point out that people have blamed steroids for any slugger who breaks down–as well as for any slugger who ages well. In those cases, aren’t steroids being blamed for hurting performance long term?

    • David Barry says:

      Even if you remove intentional walks, then you have to give Bonds something. Those times at the plate did not just disappear. At a minimum you would have to give him his OBP for those at bats and at least give him a single (could also do some kind of modified OPS+). I am sure Bonds would be ahead even if you removed steals. Not to take anything away from Aaron but Bonds was the best here too.

    • Ian R. says:

      It just so happens that Bonds’ career number of IBB (688) is almost a dead match for his career average PA per 162 games (684). That makes a quick and dirty analysis quite easy:

      139 BB (I’m counting intentional walks here, for simplicity’s sake)
      324 TB

      Doing this for Aaron is just a little trickier, but if we prorate his single season averages over his 293 IBB, we get the following:

      30 BB
      144 TB

      So if we assume that Bonds and Aaron would have played to their career averages if those intentional walks had never happened, we have 8171 total bases + walks for Aaron and 8309 for Bonds. Pretty close given the size of the numbers we’re looking at, but yes, Bonds does come out on top.

    • Rob Smith says:

      @Chris, stop with the equating amphetimines to steroids. It’s like arguing that the earth is flat or that the United Nations will take over the world a make us all slaves. It just makes you sound stupid. You don’t need to be a chemist to know that amphetamines never caused anyone to hit 73 HRs, or even 50 HRs. Energy drinks these days are the rough equivalent of greenies, and nobody complains about them at all.

  3. doc says:

    Of course, Aaron, in a much lower power era, with larger stadiums, hit “only” 201 home runs in his age 36 and beyond seasons…and no one thought that was strange at the time…Babe Ruth hit 149, Ted Williams hit 126, Willie Mays hit 104, Mark McGwire it 61, and Fimmy Foxx hit only 7. A-Rod (so far) has just 13…

  4. yoyodyne says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Ian R. says:

    My favorite Aaron stat: Take away all 755 of his home runs, and he STILL has over 3,000 hits. Incredible.

  6. Aaron has always been one of my favorites, maybe my favorite not named Gwynn or Brett, even though he retired when I was a little kid, so I never really saw him play. Maybe it’s those commercials he use to do (for the Boy Scouts?) where he’d close it by saying, “Maybe he’ll (or maybe it was he won’t) grow up to hit 755 home runs, [but] you never know.”

    • Rob Smith says:

      I saw him in the late 60s/early 70s. There was nothing scarier than runners on and Aaron coming to the plate late in the game. The inflection of Vin Scully’s voice in those situations, wasn’t even necessary to tell us we were in big trouble.

  7. Phil says:

    “I always love it when two famous people who have absolutely nothing to do with each other are connected by a birthday.”

    Make sure you post on May 6, the most towering of such days, I think: Willie Mays, Orson Welles, Sigmund Freud.

  8. LargeBill says:

    Mays, Welles and Freud were born in different years. Joe was, I believe, referring to same day same year.

  9. Phil says:

    Thanks…missed that.

  10. Tom Nawrocki says:

    Paul McCartney and Roger Ebert were born on the same day. So were Merle Haggard and Billy Dee Williams.

  11. thrillho says:

    More importantly me and Kevin Arnold (aka Fred Savage).

  12. 1 Another one: John Lennon and Joe Pepitone were both born on October 9, 1940.

    2. Aaron’s MVP year was 1957 (sorry to nitpick).

    3. “But A-Rod is 1,400 total bases shy Aaron, which is miles and miles and miles.”

    It sure is. Counting each total base as ninety feet, 1442 total bases (the exact difference between their career totals) is 24 51/88 miles.

    • Ian R. says:

      On the other hand, if we count each base as 17 inches, then 1,442 of them lined up end-to-end equal a mere 2,000 (and change) feet. Still a fun number.

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  14. Rob Smith says:

    I don’t think Aaron was underrated at all. I think he was long considered one of the top 3-5 players in the league (at least). I think his HR hitting was underrated, because he generally hit about 35, not 45 or 50. And he rarely hit tape measure shots…. his HRs were more laser shots that just kept going. He also never considered himself a HR hitter, but more of a line drive hitter. He just hit the ball so damned hard, that a lot of those line drives cleared the fence. So, when he got in range of Babe Ruth, and even when he passed Willie Mays, it seemed odd. He didn’t seem like a HR hitter like Mays and Ruth. When Mays couldn’t reach Ruth, I think most of us thought that Ruth wouldn’t be caught in our generation. Then here comes, improbably, Hank Aaron.

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