Hank Aaron is one of the most respected Major League Baseball players of all time. He not only shattered records and played with great respect for the game, but also overcame poverty and racial barriers to reach the pinnacle of his profession.

Aaron is most famous for breaking Babe Ruth’s career home run mark of 714. He excelled both at the plate and in the field. In 1999, Major League Baseball created the Hank Aaron Award to honor the top hitter in both leagues each year.

Humble Hank Aaron

Here’s an overview of the life of Aaron so far. It’s one that started in humble circumstances, moved through the Negro Leagues and eventually led to baseball immortality.

Working Hard in His Youth

While most are aware of Aaron’s accomplishments in baseball, his personal life might even be more amazing. Aaron demonstrated admirable will, determination, and perseverance.

Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron grew up in poor circumstances in Mobile, Alabama. Born Feb. 5, 1934, Aaron’s family moved to the Toulminville neighborhood of the city when he was young. Their house had no electricity, windows or indoor plumbing.  Aaron worked from an early age, taking on jobs such as mowing lawns, picking potatoes and delivering ice.

He would later tell sportswriters he built the strength in his wrists – later such a big part of his power at the plate – from hauling blocks of ice up flights of stairs.

The Black Cat Inn

Aaron’s love of baseball came through his father, Herbert Aaron. His father had opened a tavern next to their home in Toulminville called The Black Cat Inn. Out of that tavern, he ran a baseball team, and Henry loved watching the games. Aaron credited his Uncle Bubba, his mother’s brother, for teaching him how to play the game.

Pretty soon he was playing in pickup games around the neighborhood. Too poor to afford baseballs, Aaron created them by tying nylon around golf balls. He always had to finish chores before going to play, so he often showed up late to the sandlot games. Anyone who was about to bat would lay down their bat if they saw Aaron coming – they knew he would pinch hit for them once he reached the field, according to one of the kids who played in the games.

Aaron was already that good.

Quitting Football

In segregated Alabama, Aaron’s high school was not allowed to field a baseball team. According to the book, “Hank Aaron” by Serena Kappes, white and black children rarely were together at that time in Alabama.  Aaron said they would sometimes play together in an out-of-the-way field but had to make sure the police didn’t see them or they would get into trouble.

However, Aaron was allowed to play on the high school football team. His mother wanted him to keep playing and perhaps earn a college scholarship, but Aaron was concerned about getting injured and jeopardizing his baseball career. So, he quit the football team.

The principal at his school. Dr. Benjamin Baker, actually chased him down a hallway with a cane because Aaron quit, according to the book. But Aaron stuck to his decision.

Negro Leagues

As a teenager, Aaron played on a fast-pitch softball team. He also played for a local semi-pro team starting at age 14. People started to notice how well he could play. One of those was Ed Scott, a scout for the Mobile Black Bears, an all-black semi-pro team.

Aaron played so well that Scott contacted a scout for the Negro League’s Indianapolis Clowns. When Aaron turned 18, the Clowns gave him a contract. He hit .366 on the Clowns team that would win the Negro League World Series in 1952.

A Boston Braves scout saw Aaron in an exhibition game in New York. The Braves signed him, and it’s where he spent most of the rest of his career.

On To Wisconsin

Aaron started his MLB career with the minor league Eau Claire Bears of the Northern League. Playing for the first time on an integrated team, Aaron hit .336 with nine home runs in 87 games. He was named to the Northern League All-Stars and selected as the league’s Rookie of the Year.

He next joined the Class A Jacksonville Tars, helping break the color barrier in the South Atlantic League. In Puerto Rico for the Winter Leagues in 1953, Aaron learned how to play the outfield.

He was back in Wisconsin in 1954, He made his debut with the Milwaukee Braves on April 12, 1954. He would wear a Brave uniform for 20 years.

In 1957, he was part of the Milwaukee team that won the World Series over the New York Yankees, a year in which Aaron also was named MVP of the National League. It was his only championship at the MLB level. The Braves moved to Atlanta starting in 1966.

Many Accomplishments

Aaron’s most famous record is breaking the 714 career home runs hit by Ruth. Aaron later said he feared for his life because of all the racist threats he received as he got closer to breaking the record. Aaron ended his career where it started, playing for the Milwaukee Brewers his final two seasons. He retired with 755 career home runs.

Barry Bonds later eclipsed both Ruth and Aaron to win the homerun mark. But Aaron remains one of only three players to hit more than 700 career home runs.

Other notable achievements by Aaron include:

  • Holds the career RBI record with 2,297
  • Holds the total bases record with 6,856
  • Holds the most extra base hits at 1,477
  • Named to the All-Star Game  21 straight years
  • Hit 20 or more home runs in 20 consecutive years
  • Hit over .300 in 14 seasons
  • Hit more than 40 home runs in eight seasons

On his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, Aaron said: “I never want them to forget Babe Ruth. I just want them to remember Henry Aaron.”