Hank Aaron the base stealer, defensive player, and contact hitter

All the baseball cards of Hank Aaron fielding
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We all know Hank Aaron as the home run hitter. But he was also great at defense, stealing bases, and contact hitting.

Defense

Three years in a row he won the Gold Glove for outfield: 1958, 1959, and 1960. For the rest of the 60s Aaron got pushed out of the award by Roberto Clemente (RF), Willie Mays (CF) and Curt Flood (CF).

For Total Zone Runs, Hank Aaron ranks 60th all time. By this stat, he could be considered the 60th best defensive player of all time. And he ranked in the top ten for Zone Runs for four seasons.

NL Top 10 Total Zone Runs
1960 NL 14 (3rd)
1961 NL 23 (1st)
1966 NL 12 (4th)
1968 NL 10 (5th)

Stealing bases

For eight seasons he ranked in the NL top 10 for stolen bases

NL Top 10 Stolen Bases
1960 NL 16 (7th)
1961 NL 21 (4th)
1963 NL 31 (2nd)
1964 NL 22 (6th)
1965 NL 24 (6th)
1966 NL 21 (7th)
1967 NL 17 (10th)
1968 NL 28 (4th)

Check out those years. That’s almost every single year in the 60s!


Contact hitter

A lifetime .305 hitter, he’s also good at not striking out. Three times in the top 10 for AB/SO.

NL Top 10 AB per SO
1958 NL 12.3 (8th)
1959 NL 11.6 (7th)
1964 NL 12.4 (5th)

Hank Aaron is in my personal Hall of Fame

This might seem obvious that Hank Aaron should be in ANYONE’s Hall of Fame. But I have a very unusual Hall of Fame. Many power hitters are NOT in my Hall of Fame. The players must meet three criteria to be in my Hall of Fame:

  1. Stolen bases: at least one season in the top ten for SB
  2. Rarely strikes out: at least one season in the top ten for AB/SO
  3. Good defender: at least one season in top ten for DEF WAR or Total Zone Runs

Hank Aaron meets all three of those criteria.

Home runs are not part of my criteria at all. I like guys who make contact, run, and play in the field. Players who swing for fences—not a fan. Yeah, I know, if you get all Sabermetrics, it proves that home runs are essential to generating runs and winning. I don’t care. I want guys who play an all-around game without being a super-huge power hitter. I probably have this Hall of Fame criteria, because that’s how I played baseball/softball. There was no way I would be able to hit the ball very far. So instead I played to hit, to run, and to play the field well.

The top ten players in my Hall of Fame (in order):

  1. Luis Aparicio
  2. Juan Pierre
  3. Nellie Fox
  4. Tony Gwynn
  5. Ozzie Smith
  6. Jim Gilliam
  7. Ichiro Suzuki
  8. Stan Hack
  9. Jackie Robinson
  10. Kenny Lofton

Hank Aaron ranks at #19, which sounds kinda low. But remember, Hank Aaron is known more as a home run hitter. My Hall of Fame is not for power hitters. Hank Aaron is the ONLY power hitter in my Hall of Fame.

Of the 28 players in my HOF, Hank Aaron is the ONLY player to be in the top 10 for home runs in a season. (Of course, Hank Aaron was in the top ten for home runs 18 times)

This just goes to show how incredible a ball player Hank Aaron was. Power, speed, defense, contact hitting.

Other interesting Hank Aaron trivia

  • He’s one of the best clutch hitters of all time? He ranks 5th all-time for WPA/LI, (which ranks how much you are able to hit well in clutch situations). Every year from 1956 to 1973, Hank Aaron was in the top ten for WPA/LI. 18 seasons in a row!
  • For 19 consecutive seasons (1955 to 1973), he got votes for MVP.
  • When he started his career, he was the 4th youngest. When he ended, he was the 2nd oldest.

Understandably everyone remembers Hank Aaron for his hitting. But let’s not forget his fielding and base running. Of the approximately 2,300 baseball cards of Hank Aaron in existence, only nine feature him fielding. Only six show him running.

All nine Hank Aaron baseball cards featuring him fielding

1954 Topps #128
1973 Topps #100
1980 Cramer Baseball Legends #7
1955 Spic and Span Milwaukee Braves Die Cuts
1961 Post Cereal #107
1951 Topps #415
2000 Topps #17 (1970 Topps style)
2018 Topps – [Base] #582.4 – Legends Variation
2014 Topps – Upper Class #UC-48

In reaction to Hank Aaron having only 9 cards of him fielding, a user on Reddit had a good observation:

Maddux won like 35 gold gloves but his cards typically don’t show him fielding grounders.

Ha! Good point. I just had to compare to see how many plays Maddux had as a pitcher vs Aaron’s plays as a fielder.

  • Maddux: 1,794 plays (546 putouts, 1194 assists)
  • Aaron: 5,737 plays (5536 putouts, 201 assists)

So Aaron had 3x more plays than Maddux. I don’t know if that makes any difference. Is 3x more plays when comparing an outfielder to a pitcher a lot?

Photos of outfielders standing there isn’t all that exciting either. There might be the occasional diving grab though. I’d like to see if there are any photos of Aaron making a jumping or diving catch. Googling around, this is what I found:

Photos of Hank Aaron making a catch

For copyright issues, I’m putting only links to the photos here.


All the baseball cards of Hank Aaron running

All six cards of Hank Aaron running

1956 Topps #31
2011 Topps Kimball Champions #KC-51
2011 Topps – Prime 9 Player of the Week Refractors #PNR6
2019 Topps Heritage High Number – The Hammer’s Greatest Hits #THGH-14
2019 Topps Heritage High Number – The Hammer’s Greatest Hits #THGH-5
2019 Topps Heritage High Number – The Hammer’s Greatest Hits #THGH-3 – Hank Aaron

This card of Hank Aaron’s first home run has to be my favorite.

  • This is his FIRST home run of his historic 755.
  • I love cards that feature a photo from a specific featured event. So many cards are generic photos. You don’t know the day or context. But here, we know exactly what is happening.
  • He’s running fast around the bases.
  • Of all six cards featuring Aaron running, this is probably the best photo. The 1956 Topps image of him sliding into home has the potential to be a great photo, given the situation. But his slide into home is a bit awkward, the photo is missing the team logo on his jersey and cap.

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