The baseball world has lost an all-time legend.. He was 86.
"Hank Aaron is near the top of everyone's list of all-time great players," commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "His monumental achievements as a player were surpassed only by his dignity and integrity as a person. Hank symbolized the very best of our game, and his all-around excellence provided Americans and fans across the world with an example to which to aspire. His career demonstrates that a person who goes to work with humility every day can hammer his way into history – and find a way to shine like no other."
Hammerin' Hank is on the very short list of the best players in baseball history -- he's in the inner circle of the inner circle of the Hall of Fame -- and his greatness was built on consistent excellence and longevity rather than incredibly high peaks. Aaron had tremendous individual seasons, of course, but there is surprisingly little "black ink" on his baseball card. Consider:
- Aaron led his league in homers only four times in 23 seasons.
- He led his league in runs batted in only four times as well.
- Only three times did Aaron lead his league in OPS.
Despite leading the league in various categories only a handful of times in his career, Aaron is second on the all-time home run list (755) and the all-time leader in RBI (2,297) and total bases (6,856). He is top 10 all-time in pretty much every meaningful offensive category, and in many cases he is top five all-time.
|Hits||Home runs||RBI||Total Bases|
1. Pete Rose: 4,256
1. Barry Bonds: 762
1. Hank Aaron: 2,297
1. Hank Aaron: 6,856
2. Ty Cobb: 4,189
2. Hank Aaron: 755
2. Babe Ruth: 2,214
2. Stan Musial: 6,134
3. Hank Aaron: 3,771
3. Babe Ruth: 714
3. Albert Pujols: 2,100
3. Willie Mays: 6,066
4. Stan Musial: 3,630
4. Alex Rodriguez: 696
4. Alex Rodriguez: 2,086
4. Barry Bonds: 5,976
5. Tris Speaker: 3,514
5. Willie Mays: 660
5. Cap Anson: 2,075
5. Albert Pujols: 5,923
No right-handed hitter is within 50 home runs of Aaron's career total. The gap between Aaron and No. 2 on the all-time total bases list is larger than the gap between No. 2 and No. 10. Heck, if Aaron never hit a single home run, he would still have over 3,000 career hits (3,016 to be exact) and rank in the top 30 all-time. It's an unparalleled level of greatness.
Those 755 career home runs come with zero 50-homer seasons, if you can believe that. Aaron did hit 30 home runs in a season an incredible 15 times though, and eight times he hit at least 40 home runs. A-Rod is the only other player in history who can make both those claims. Aaron's 20 seasons with at least 20 home runs are the most in history.
Only once in his career was Aaron named MVP (1957) and only twice -- twice! -- was he named the National League Player of the Month (May 1959 and June 1967). It's almost like his greatness was taken for granted. He was so good year after year after year that it almost got boring. Everyone just expected Aaron to produce and produce he did.
At the end of the season though, Aaron was always among the league's best players. That earned him 21 consecutive All-Star Game selections from 1956-75 as well as nine finishes in the top six of the MVP voting. Seven times he finished in the top three of the MVP voting and 13 times he finished in the top 10 of the voting. Only one MVP award, but MVP votes every year.
Aaron was among the league leaders in the major categories almost every single season for two decades even though he did not often lead the league. It was MVP-caliber production on an annual basis. Look at his single-season finishes:
- 11 top-five finishes in batting average
- Seven top-five finishes in on-base percentage
- 15 top-five finishes in OPS
- 14 top-five finishes in home runs
- 10 top-five finishes in runs batted in
- 14 top-five finishes in total bases
- 11 top-five finishes in WAR (15 top seven finishes)
From 1955-70, Aaron played in 2,454 of 2,538 possible regular season games, or 97 percent, and in those 2,454 games he authored a .314/.377/.569 (160 OPS+) batting line. Only 141 players in history have matched that slash line in a single season (and only 12 have done it multiple times) and yet Aaron put up those numbers for a decade and a half. His durability was unmatched.
The term "compiler" gets thrown around each year around this time and is often intended to downplay someone's Hall of Fame candidacy. He wasn't great, he just hung around a long time, you know? Aaron was a compiler in the very best sense of the term, however. He was so good for so long that he led the league in total bases as a 22-year-old in 1956 and again as a 35-year-old in 1969. He earned his first MVP vote at age 21 and his last at age 41.
Beyond his historic on-field greatness, Aaron was beloved as a person and a tremendous ambassador for the game, and he used his platform to help others through philanthropic efforts and civil rights activism. He's an iconic figure and a baseball titan. No player was as good for as long before Aaron, and no player has been as good for as long since Aaron. He is simply one of a kind.