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Good Questions About Aaron Book

In the month that passed since publication of my latest book, I’ve been spending much of my time doing radio and Zoom interviews to promote it.

That book, Home Run King: the Remarkable Record of Hank Aaron, has triggered lots of response – and some terrific questions from interviewers.

Here are some of the better ones:

Q. With so many Hank Aaron books already published, what makes this one different?

A. This book is different because it was written by topic rather than time. While almost all other baseball biographies are arranged in chronological order, this one isn’t. In fact, the chapters were written out of sequence, as if each one were a stand-alone magazine article.

Q. Why was Hank Aaron so overlooked during his career?

A. He played in small markets – 12 years in Milwaukee, then 9 in Atlanta before the advent of Ted Turner’s TBS SuperStation. Those places were far from the publicity spotlight of the East or West coasts, or even Chicago, for that matter.

Q. Why wasn’t Aaron a unanimous choice for the Hall of Fame?

A. Although he received the highest voting percentage than anyone except Ty Cobb when elected in 1982, nine voting writers left his name off their 10-man ballots. Maybe it was racism, maybe it was ignorance, or maybe it was voters refusing to vote for anyone the first time their name appears on the ballot. There’s no question Aaron should have been the first unanimous electee.

Q. Why do you consider Hank Aaron the true home run king?

Barry Bonds, the only man who squeaked past Aaron’s total of 755 home runs, hit as many as 50 homers in a season only once: the year he hit 73. As Yogi Berra would say, something’s not kosher in the State of Denmark. It’s interesting to note that Hall of Fame voters agree: Bonds failed to win election before his 10-year eligibility period expired.

Q. How did Hank Aaron become an All-Star 25 times if he only played 23 seasons?

He wasn’t selected in his first year (1954) or his last year (1976) but was otherwise an All-Star a record 21 years in a row. Since the majors played two All-Star games a year from 1959-62 to raise money for the players pension fund, he got four addition selections, giving him a record 25 for his career.

Q. Why did he win only one MVP award?

The polar opposite of the charismatic, flamboyant Willie Mays, Aaron was low-key, introverted, and humble. Don Drysdale once said he was so relaxed he looked like he was falling asleep between pitches. Since he did not blow his own horn but did play in small markets, Aaron was always an after-thought – at least until he approached Babe Ruth’s record. He hit the pennant-winning home run in 1957, against Billy Muffett of the St. Louis Cardinals, so he was an easy choice for NL MVP. Two years later, however, he finished only third after hitting .355 with 39 homers and 400 total bases. In fact, Aaron was never even the runner-up for the MVP trophy.

Q. How did he do against the best pitchers?

Hank Aaron hit .362 against Sandy Koufax, .342 against Steve Carlton, and never struck out more than once in any season against Tom Seaver after the Mets star fanned him seven times in his first season (Hank figured him out). He also hit more home runs (17) against Don Drysdale than against any other pitcher.

Q. What are some of the unusual records Aaron holds?

Everybody knows he was first in total bases, extra-base hits, runs batted in, and “clean” home runs (no steroids). But he also shares the records of most home runs by brothers (768 with Tommie) and most home runs as teammates (863 with Eddie Mathews).

Q. What unusual things did you learn in researching the book?

I found that the quiet, soft-spoken ballplayer was actually quite vocal on the presidential campaign trail. In fact, four Democratic presidents – Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden – said they would not have won the White House without Aaron campaigning for them. Aaron was also amazed that Jackie Robinson was a Republican who supported Richard Nixon.

Q. Jimmy Carter was always at the ballpark when Aaron was chasing Ruth’s record. Did he have a special relationship with Aaron?

A. Yes, they were friendly from the time Carter was governor right through his presidency and beyond. In fact, the Aarons and Carters went on a European ski vacation together long after both left public life and laughed at each other because they fell down on the slopes so often.

Q. What makes your book’s color photo insert section special?

There are pictures of me interviewing Aaron in Montreal’s Jarry Parc when I was a 17-year-old senior at Syracuse University and another that shows me at age 25 standing directly behind Aaron when Jimmy Carter, then Governor of Georgia, stopped by his clubhouse cubicle to wish him well. Various other pictures, from my personal collection, show Aaron standing with Mathews, then his manager, at the West Palm Beach batting cage a month before he broke the record and Dusty Baker, who wrote a fabulous foreword at my request, posing with me in the same ballpark very early in his career as an outfielder. Dusty was in the on-deck circle when Aaron broke Ruth’s record on April 8, 1974.

Q. Speaking of that date, why is it also the title of Chapter One in your book?

This is the 50th anniversary of the day the most hallowed record in professional sports fell to a new owner. I opened the book by noting that “Even the heavens are celebrating,” referring to the solar eclipse we had in much of the United States that day.

Q. There’s a chapter called Ironies & Oddities. Tell us some of them.

For starters, Hank hit only one game-winning grand slam – on July 12, 1962. Tommie led off the bottom of the ninth with a pinch-homer, the next three men reached, and Aaron connected against Lindy McDaniel to win the game against the Cardinals. That was one of three times the Aarons homered in the same game that season. Hank and Eddie Mathews homered in the same game 75 times, a little-known major-league record. Hank also led in each of the three Triple Crown categories at least twice but never all three at the same time. Willie Mays, by contrast, never led the National League in runs batted in. Aaron never hit for the cycle and never hit more than three home runs in a game.

Q. Your book contains pictures of two certificates the Braves wanted to give their fans: I WAS THERE WHEN HANK HIT 714 and I WAS THERE WHEN HANK HIT 715. But only the second one was actually distributed at Atlanta Stadium. What happened?

A. Ordered to play Aaron in the Cincinnati series that opened the 1974 season, the Braves watched him tie Ruth’s record in the first inning of the first game. That made the 714 certificate a phantom – like the 1951 World Series rings minted for the Brooklyn Dodgers – that had to be destroyed.

Q. Was Hank Aaron the best player you ever saw?

A. Very definitely – and I’ve been covering baseball since 1969 and following it closely since 1957. Forget Willie, Mickey & the Duke. They were center-fielders who played in the same city (New York/Brooklyn) but weren’t close to Aaron as players. Henry Louis Aaron is one of the best players in baseball history, right up there with Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Rogers Hornsby.

Dan Schlossberg, Senior Writer
Dan Schlossberg, Senior Writerhttps://mlbreport.com/
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is a national baseball writer for forbes.com; weekend editor of the Here’s The Pitch newsletter; columnist for Sports Collectors Digest; and contributor to USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Memories & Dreams, and many other outlets. He’s also the author of more than 40 books. His email is ballauthor@gmail.com.


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