Hammerin’ Hank

It really doesn’t seem possible that it was almost 47 years ago that Dr. Zal and I watched Hank Aaron hit his 715th career home run, breaking the record long held by Babe Ruth. Time waits for no man.

Despite the “steroid era” and the adaptation of modern analytics and training techniques, Aaron is still the all-time MLB leader in career RBI, extra base hits and total bases. He is also in the top five in career hits and runs scored.

Like many successful athletes–hell, like many people in general–Aaron lamented many of the changes in his sport that had occurred since his playing days. He thought the emergence of the “three true outcome” hitter made the game far less enjoyable. Three true outcomes refer to home runs, strikeouts and walks, events where the pitcher and hitter determine the result of the plate appearance without the impact of fielders.

Despite amassing 755 home runs and 1,477 extra base hits (double, triple, home run), Aaron never struck out more than 97 times in a season. I believe the single-season “record” for most strikeouts by a batter in a season is over 220. Of course, Aaron didn’t face the same proportion of pitchers with 100+ MPH fastballs and nasty secondary pitches as hitters do today.

I know it’s a coincidence, but I always found it interesting that Hank Aaron was born on February 5 and Babe Ruth was born on February 6. Oh, $50 a month was the reason that Aaron and Willie Mays were not teammates. After starring in the Negro Leagues (sorry, SJWs, that’s what they were called and that’s what they’re still called) with the Indianapolis Clowns, Aaron received two contract offers from MLB organizations. Quoting Aaron, “I had the Giants’ contract in my hand. But the Braves offered fifty dollars a month more. That’s the only thing that kept Willie Mays and me from being teammates – fifty dollars.”

I salute the memory of Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron.

 

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Evidence that in baseball one player cannot usually make a team great, Aaron played on only one World Series champion, the 1957 Milwaukee Braves. (OK, I’m stretching the point. The Braves had a winning record every season they played in Milwaukee, 1953-65; Aaron debuted in 1954.) What was happening in the automobile world in 1957?

The Automobile Manufacturers Association banned factory-sponsored racing. The ban proved to be less than effective as “privateers” with industry connections still found ways to race cars.

Pontiac celebrated its 50th anniversary and Oldsmobile celebrated its 60th. Of course, fuel injection became an option in the Corvette. It’s not as well-known that fuelies were also part of Pontiac’s lineup for the 1957 model year, available only in the limited-production Bonneville model. Their engine had a larger displacement than Chevrolet’s (347 cubic inches compared to 283) and was “rated” at 315 HP, compared to 283 for the Chevy. Of course, the Chevrolet engine really had about 290 HP, but the marketing people liked the idea of 283 HP from 283 cubic inches. Similarly, many automobile historians think 315 HP is an understatement. I have read that Pontiac never put an official HP rating on the engine simply saying it produced “in excess of 300 HP.”

 

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From eBay a picture of (hopefully) a 1957 Pontiac Bonneville. Only 630 of these were made at a price of $5,782, by far Pontiac’s most expensive model and far more than most ’57 Vettes even equipped with option code 579D, the 283 HP fuelie. The base price of a ’57 Corvette was $3,176 and option 579D cost $726. Even with another $1,000 in options, the car was less expensive than a Bonneville.

Tying this post up, Dr. Zal’s father drove Bonnevilles for years, but never had this one. I spent much time in one of his Bonnevilles as for the first two years of high school, his father would take us to school and my father would take us home. The last two years I usually drove us to and from school in my Pontiac, the 1967 GTO.

 

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6 thoughts on “Hammerin’ Hank

  1. Not being qualified with an expert’s viewpoint on baseball, I’ve often considered the batting average of exceptional hitters to be the true mark of the difficulty of hitting a ball hurled at over 80 miles per hour. (It appears, though, that I am an expert at run-on sentences. 🙂 ) But I digress… Getting a hit at only 1/3 times at bat is the stat of an expert.

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    1. Thanks, JS. The average major league fastball is actually in excess of 90 MPH with some pitchers being able to reach 100.

      Among “traditional” statistics, at a team level on-base percentage and slugging percentage correlate better with scoring runs and winning games than batting average. These facts are well accepted now, but when I started working in baseball in the 1980s that view was considered heretical.

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  2. I always had trouble rooting for Randy Johnson as he was a pitcher for USC, “those” people who were rivals for my University of Arizona Wildcats baseball team. In my old age I have mellowed since Randy helped my Arizona Diamondbacks win the 2001 World Series over the detested Yankees. In addition he is a very private person and also a certified “car nut.” I saw him and his family at a car event at West World in Scottsdale, several years back. I chose to not approach him as I wanted to respect his privacy. We all NEED to mellow out and understand we are all just people. Respect is a word that is underappreciated in our culture now. He entered Cooperstown, the Baseball Hall of Fame as a Diamondback.

    I remember why Pontiac named a model after Bonneville. We should all learn our history so we can understand where we fit in this world.

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