Hank Aaron wasn’t as loud as some other stars, on or off the field. He was a steady presence, a fixture in right field, a mainstay at the All-Star Game and a terror at the plate. His path was often difficult, and his name is sometimes overlooked when rattling off the greatest to ever play the game. But make no mistake: To his peers — or the closest thing baseball could offer in terms of peers — Aaron was nothing short of a god among men.
After a short stint in the Negro leagues and two seasons in the minors, Aaron reached the majors as a 20-year-old outfielder for the Milwaukee Braves in 1954. He did not make the All-Star Game that season, but he did in every other year from 1955 to 1975.Credit…Bettmann, via Getty Images
There were many special seasons in Aaron’s career, but nothing could quite match 1957, when he blossomed into one of the game’s best players and led the Milwaukee Braves to a World Series title — the franchise’s first championship since 1914 and the only one while the team was based in Milwaukee. Aaron received the Most Valuable Player Award after the season.
Aaron took his game to another level in 1957. He led the majors in home runs and runs batted in and the Braves won their first World Series title since 1914.Credit…Associated Press
Aaron and his first wife, Barbara Lucas, had five children, including Henry Jr. In 1957, life at home included congratulatory phone calls for the Braves’ National League pennant.Credit…Bettmann, via Getty Images
In the 1957 World Series, Aaron hit .393 with three home runs, including this three-run shot in Game 4. Milwaukee beat the Yankees in seven games.Credit…Associated Press
The Braves’ magical 1957 season included some serious hardware. Warren Spahn, the team’s ace left-hander, won the Cy Young Award and Aaron won the Most Valuable Player Award.Credit…Getty Images
Aaron never won another M.V.P. Award and his team never won another World Series, but he quietly continued to excel, slowly chipping away at several career batting records that had been considered unbreakable.
Aaron played 2,760 games in the outfield, the fifth most in major league history behind Ty Cobb, Barry Bonds, Willie Mays and Rickey Henderson.Credit…Associated Press
In spring training before the 1968 season, his teammates Felipe Alou and Joe Torre probably saw Aaron as an elder statesman as he was readying for his 15th season and had 481 career home runs.Credit…Associated Press
Jimmy Carter, then the governor of Georgia, with Aaron in 1973. On Friday, Carter said in a statement that Aaron “has been a personal hero to us. A breaker of records and racial barriers, his remarkable legacy will continue to inspire countless athletes and admirers for generations to come.”Credit…Associated Press
Willie Mays is often cited as the greatest player ever, but some peers insist that Aaron was just as special. The stars met up before the 1973 All-Star Game in Kansas City, Mo.Credit…Associated Press
Aaron’s pursuit of Babe Ruth’s career home run record would define his legacy on and off the field. Despite never having hit 50 home runs in a season, he was on the precipice of passing Ruth at the end of the 1973 season. While many were rooting for Aaron, others issued death threats that weighed heavily on him, even if he rarely showed his struggle in public.
Aaron finished the 1973 season one home run short of tying Babe Ruth’s career record. It was a period of intense interest in Aaron, both from fans who wanted him to break the record and from racists who threatened his life.Credit…Associated Press
Aaron eventually drew a crowd everywhere he went, including a visit to Harlem in 1974 in which his car was swarmed by fans.Credit…Barton Silverman/The New York Times
Early in the 1974 season, Aaron finally did it, hitting his 715th career home run, passing Ruth’s record. Credit…Associated Press
Aaron was mobbed by teammates after his 715th home run. Despite the death threats that Aaron received before breaking the record, security at Atlanta’s stadium failed to prevent a few fans from getting onto the field and circling the bases with him.Credit…Associated Press
Aaron wasn’t finished after passing Ruth’s home run record. He hit 40 more homers over the next two-plus seasons, made two more All-Star teams and established seemingly unbreakable records in runs batted in and total bases. Five years after his retirement he sailed into the Baseball Hall of Fame with more than 97 percent of the vote.
While Aaron eventually lost his home run record to Barry Bonds, he is still the career leader in runs batted in and total bases.Credit…Associated Press
Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, his first year of eligibility. He was named on 406 of the 415 ballots. Credit…Bettmann, via Getty Images