This documentary on Hank Aaron does a great job of depicting the level of racism Aaron faced not only as a ballplayer, but throughout his life. In spite of it all, he excelled on the field and made an incredible and lasting impact on the game.
I never imagined that M.C. Hammer would make his way into this blog, but it turns out, Hammer Time has a connection to baseball.
Stanley Kirk Burrell (M.C. Hammer’s given name) once upon a time served as a batboy for the Oakland Athletics. After seeing the 11-year-old break dancing in the parking lot of the Oakland Coliseum, A’s owner Charlie Finley offered him a role as a clubhouse assistant and batboy, and Burrell served as a “batboy” with the team from 1973 until he graduated from high school in 1980. Whenever Finley was out of town, young Stanley would be on the phone in the A’s dugout, relaying the play-by-play. Finley loved the boy so much, he gave Burrell the title of Executive Vice President for the organization, and Burrell was paid $7.25 per game.
As for Burrell’s future stage name, its origins come in part from Hank Aaron, a.k.a. Hammerin’ Hank, to whom many felt the young batboy bore a resemblance. Reggie Jackson, using the resemblance as inspiration, began calling Burrell “Hammer,” which stuck. He acquired the nickname “M.C.” for being a “master of ceremonies” when he began performing at various clubs while on the road with the A’s (and later in the military).
Burrell even tried to pursue a baseball career himself, having played second base for his high school team. He made it all the way to the final round of cuts with the San Franciso Giants. He did not make the team, however, and it was after this point that he turned his full attention to music and pursuing a career as a rapper. Nevertheless, Hammer has been a participant/player in the annual Taco Bell All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game wearing an A’s cap to represent Oakland and has returned to the Coliseum to throw out the first pitch on a number of occasions.
I love this photo. If there wasn’t already a story behind it, this is the kind of photo that would serve as a terrific writing prompt.
This picture was taken September 22, 1965, at the conclusion of the Milwaukee Braves’ last game in Milwaukee County Stadium. It was the Braves’ last home game before their move to Atlanta the following year. The photo depicts third baseman Eddie Mathews on the left along with Hank Aaron as they headed up the tunnel to the dressing room for the last time.
Baseball is a lot like the ivy-covered wall of Wrigley Field–it gives off a great appearance, but when you run into it, you discover the bricks underneath. At times, it seems that we’re dealing with a group of men who aren’t much different than others we’ve all run into over the years, except they wear neckties instead of robes and hoods.
This documentary, “Fastball,” is fun to watch, and currently, it’s available for free through YouTube. Kevin Costner narrates, and you also get to hear from Joe Posnanski, Derek Jeter, Goose Gossage, Hank Aaron, plus a number of other hard-throwing pitchers and the hitters who had to face them. The documentary is rich with stories about many of the great fastball pitchers in the game, both past and present, and I even found myself experiencing small surges of adrenaline as I watched. The science presented in the film is fascinating, as well.
It looks like you’ll have to make your way to YouTube to watch it, as I’m unable to drop the video here due to restrictions. Definitely check it out, if you get the chance!
Here’s an interesting find from the Library of Congress. Dated May 2, 1963, Branch Rickey wrote up a scouting report of Hammerin’ Hank Aaron.
Cincinnati, Ohio May 2, 1963 Cincinnati vs Milwaukee
Surely one of the greatest hitters in baseball today. Can hit late with power, – good wrists. But in spite of his hitting record and admitted power ability, one cannot help think that Aaron is frequently a guess hitter. Will take three strikes down the middle and in fact frequently acts frozen on pitches. For years I have believed and I still believe that Aaron has more trouble with the breaking stuff. He stands close enough to the plate to pull the outside ball and does pull it. However, he is a foot length further from the plate than Frank Robinson of Cincinnati.
[Transcribed and reviewed by volunteers participating in the By The People project at crowd.loc.gov.]
It’s an interesting review of Aaron’s hitting, pretty much right in the middle of his MLB career. Looking at the box score, Aaron went 2-for-4 with a homer and 2 RBIs in this game, but also struck out twice.
While I am too young to have ever watched Aaron’s hitting, what limited knowledge I have makes me think Rickey might not have been alone in his perception of him as a “guess hitter.” At the same time, I would also wager that Aaron might have read pitches better than he sometimes let on.
If you’re interested, you can find the digital document on the Library of Congress website here.
Baseball isn’t just the stats. As much as anything else, baseball is the style of Willie Mays, or the determination of Hank Aaron, or the endurance of a Mickey Mantle, the discipline of Carl Yastrzemski, the drive of Eddie Mathews, the reliability of a (Al) Kaline or a (Joe) Morgan, the grace of a (Joe) DiMaggio, the kindness of a Harmon Killebrew, and the class of Stan Musial, the courage of a Jackie Robinson, or the heroism of Lou Gehrig. My hope for the game is that these qualities will never be lost.
This one truly breaks my heart. I have been a Hank Aaron fan for almost as long as I have been a baseball fan. I Had A Hammer is one of the first baseball biographies I ever picked up. When I attempted to play high school basketball one year (I was terrible at it), I was assigned jersey #44. And even though it was a different sport altogether, I still felt honored to wear the same number as the great Henry Aaron.
Henry Louis Aaron was born February 5, 1934 in Mobile, Alabama. He played a total of 23 seasons in Major League Baseball, from 1954 through 1976. Twenty-one of those seasons he played with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves and two seasons were with the Milwaukee Brewers. His 755 career home runs broke the long-standing MLB record set by Babe Ruth and stood for 33 years. Aaron also hit 24 or more home runs every year from 1955 through 1973 and is one of only two players to hit 30 or more home runs in a season at least fifteen times.
Aaron’s chase after Babe Ruth’s career home run record stands as a notable period during his career, and not just because he ultimately did break the record. Aaron received thousands of letters every week during the summer of 1973; and during the 1973-1974 offseason, he received death threats and a large assortment of hate mail from people who did not want to see him break Ruth’s home run mark. Fortunately, Aaron also received mounds of of public support in response to the bigotry. As his autobiography demonstrates, Aaron handled himself with a tremendous amount of dignity throughout this period of undeserved hardship.
Hank Aaron holds the record for the most All-Star selections, with twenty-five, while sharing the record for most All-Star Games played (24) with Willie Mays and Stan Musial. He was a three-time Gold Glove winner, and in 1957, he won the NL MVP Award when the Milwaukee Braves won the World Series. Aaron also holds MLB records for the most career RBIs (2,297), extra base hits (1,477), and total bases (6,856).
After his retirement, Aaron held front office roles with the Atlanta Braves, including senior vice president. Hank Aaron was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, his first year of eligibility, with an astonishing 97.8% of the vote. He was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002.
Henry Aaron died in his sleep on January 22, 2021. Rest in peace.