This article bugs me. This claim of “abuse” — comparing Aaron favorably to Bonds — is one thing, but the author falls into the trap that really angers me, the framing of Aaron’s career as somehow the triumph of a slow-and-steady “good player”, the refusal to see Aaron’s greatness.
Hank Aaron’s career is, of course, marked by consistency and length. It’s also marked by greatness, by him being a great player from his second season, 1955, to his twentieth, 1973, when at age 39 he hit 40 homers and slugged .643, second in the league. In every one of those seasons, he got at least one MVP vote. In every one, and in the two following, he made the All-Star team — two All-Star teams from 1959-62, when the game was played twice a year.
I’ve talked about the Black Ink Test, a measure of league-leading totals, in the context of Chipper. Unlike Chipper, Hank led the league. A lot. He’s eighth all-time in the Black Ink Test. He led the league in homers four times, in slugging six times. He won two batting titles and twice led the league in hits. (The dumbest line in the article is that Aaron never hit higher than .355. .355 would be a respectable league-leading total even today.) The all-time leader in total bases, he led the league a remarkable eight times. He led the league in doubles and RBI four times each, three times in runs scored. He finished seven points of batting average short of the Triple Crown in 1963. As for near-league-leading seasons, he’s second to Cobb in the Grey Ink Test, which measures finishes in the Top Ten, and Cobb’s total is boosted by relatively high finishes in home runs, which were far less important in 1919 than in Aaron’s day or ours; the Test isn’t really suited for dead ball players.
Speaking of, Aaron never hit fifty home runs, but his career sits in an era when such high home run totals were rare. There were only five 50+ homer seasons during Aaron’s career, only two in the NL, both by Willie Mays — 51 in 1955, 52 ten years later. Of course, that’s part of the problem, that Hank is getting compared to his more glamourous contemporary Alabamian. But Willie, great as he was, wasn’t as good of a hitter. He won only one batting title, in 1954, and never led the league in RBI. He’s 18th on the Black Ink Test.
Another part of the problem is that Hank played the best part of his career in one of the most run-depressed environments in modern baseball history. The fifties were a relatively low-offense era, and the sixties more so, and County Stadium in Milwaukee was a difficult place to hit home runs. It’s been written that Hank got a boost from Fulton County, and of course that’s so, but that only made up for what he lost from County Stadium. In his career, he hit nearly as many homers on the road as at home. He certainly would have hit 50 in a season if he’d played in a neutral park, and if he’d played under Fulton County conditions probably would have hit 62 or more, and have 850 or more career homers. The “neutralize stats” option on Baseball-Reference gives him 801 homers for his career — and 4030 hits.
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