day 44: hammerin’ hank

Today is 44 days, which is two days and six weeks of the omer: gevruah she’b’malchut.

Like many black players of his generation (such as those featured in this project, Ernie Banks, Roy Campanella, Cool Papa Bell, and Jackie Robinsonright fielder Henry Aaron started his career in the Negro Leagues in 1952, with the unfortunately named Indianapolis Clowns. (The team apparently played exhibition games through the 1980s! Did anyone I know see them?) The name notwithstanding, Aaron was taken very seriously, and he quickly moved to the major leagues, where he played 21 seasons with the Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta team and then with the Brewers for his final two years.

I said earlier today, in Full Count’s second Day 43 post, that I felt less clear about malchut than many other sefirot. Today, the match seems easy: Aaron was the king. He’s regularly ranked among the top five baseball players of all time. He was so good at so many things that he managed to be underrated even while widely popular.

He was known as the home run champion — he smacked an outstanding career 755 of them, a record that lasted for 33 years. You can see some of Aaron’s HR highlights here and just below can watch Vin Scully on April 8, 1974, calling number 715, which passed the Bambino’s record that seemed would always stand. In 1999, MLB established the Hank Aaron Award, for the top offensive player in each league, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of this event.

Scully’s excitement (and that of the two white fans who rushed the field and caught up with Aaron at second base) obscures the fact that there were a lot of people who were very angry to witness a black man poised to overtake a white man’s HR record. The hate mail poured in. Aaron’s kids needed security to go to school. He himself needed security for any public appearance. As 715 loomed, he didn’t sleep well, he didn’t eat well.

But those haters weren’t the ones present that day. As Scully said,

What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia, what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking the record of an all-time baseball idol.

Ever humble, Aaron later hardly knew what tell reporters after the game. At his Hall of Fame induction speech in 1982 he proclaimed: “I never want them to forget Babe Ruth. I just want them to remember Henry Aaron.” And they did. His HoF plaque notes that he also set records for games played, at-bats, extra-base hits, total bases, and RBI. And Aaron’s career hit total of 3,771 is also incredible; even without any of his HRs he would still be close to 3,000 hits, putting him among the top 30 players in history. (With the HRs, he’s third on that list.)

Joe Posnanski argues that it’s Aaron’s 2,174 career runs (he broke Willie Mays’ record of 2,062 in 1974) that is the most impressive statistic. And Aaron would likely agree. In 1948, he went to hear his idol speak: At that event, Jackie Robinson talked about how a baseball player’s job is to score runs, not just get hits. Posnanski says, “To score 2,063 runs you have to average 100 runs for more than 20 years. It is a mind-numbing achievement . . . Think about the drive, the focus, the sense of purpose needed to score that many runs.”

Indeed, it takes a great deal of gevurah to do what Aaron did. Let’s count Day 44 in honor of the king of power hitting.


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