Hank Aaron, the Hall of Fame slugger who spent most of his career with the Braves in Milwaukee and then Atlanta, died Friday, leaving behind a legacy that is virtually unmatched in baseball history. Best known as the former all-time home run king — his record of 755 stood for 33 years before Barry Bonds broke it in 2007 — Aaron was more than just a slugger. He was one of the greatest players who ever lived, and that extends beyond his time in the majors.
Before we salute Hank Aaron, Remember:— Michael Harriot (@michaelharriot) January 22, 2021
Last month, @MLB finally added Negro League records to its official stats, meaning Aaron hit 760 home runs, more RBIs, total bases, & All-Star games than anyone who ever played baseball.
Also, Babe Ruth didn't play against Black players.
But his major league stats alone are staggering. Aaron ended his career batting .305 with a .928 on-base-plus-slugging percentage that was 55 percent higher than the major league average during his 23-year career. In addition to his home runs, Aaron is third all-time in hits (3,771), tied for fourth in runs (2,174), first in extra-base hits (1,477), first in RBI (2,297), fourth in intentional walks (293) and fifth in wins above replacement for position players (143.1 per Baseball Reference). He is one of six players to have at least 3,000 hits and 500 homers.
But those are just the most obvious numbers. Here are five stunning stats that help define Aaron’s career.
He’s the all-time leader in total bases
The most grandiose statistic on Aaron’s résumé is 6,856 total bases, 722 more than Stan Musial in second place. To put that in perspective, Mike Trout, arguably the best hitter in baseball today, has a 1 percent chance of breaking that record.
He was in his prime for most of his career
Beginning with his second season of 1955, Aaron produced at least six wins above replacement, considered the threshold for an MVP-type season, in every season through 1969, a record 15-year run. Add in Aaron’s performance from 1971 (7.2 WAR), and only he and Barry Bonds meet the threshold of six WAR in 16 seasons.
Bill James used a hybrid stat made up of season score, win shares and wins above replacement to put one number on how well a player performed in a season. If a season was within at least 15 percent of a player’s three best consecutive seasons, it was considered part of his prime. According to James, only Willie Mays and Jake Beckley (who played from 1888 to 1907 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1971 via the Veterans Committee) had more seasons in prime form (12) than Aaron (11).
He has the fifth-most wins above replacement after turning 30
During his 20s, from 1954 to 1963, Aaron produced 73.9 wins above replacement, the seventh most among position players in that age range. After turning 30, he contributed 69.2 WAR, the fifth most among position players. Only Bonds, Honus Wagner, Mays and Babe Ruth had more.
He was clutch in October
Hammerin’ Hank didn’t get many chances in the postseason, but when his teams qualified for the playoffs, Aaron made his at-bats count. He hit .362 with six homers and 16 RBI in 17 postseason games, adding 33 percentage points to his teams’ championship efforts, per the Baseball Gauge’s championship win probability added metric. That was the 12th-most-productive playoff performance among position players during Aaron’s career.
He somehow won just one MVP award
Aaron was named the National League MVP in 1957 after batting .322 and leading the league in runs (118), home runs (44), RBI (132) and total bases (369). Aaron never finished as the runner-up but placed third six times and received votes in 19 straight seasons (from 1955 to 1973), putting him in a tie for the eighth-most MVP shares per Baseball Reference.
The life and death of Hank Aaron (1934-2021)
The Atlanta Braves great, who smashed Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record, died Jan. 22.
From the archives:
• George F. Will: The dignified slugger from Mobile (2007)
• Hank Aaron beyond the fences (1987)