Posted on 05/13/2015
Baseball is my favorite sport, both to play (when I did) and to watch. Baseball and statistics go hand-in-hand. I have even created a baseball statistic myself called the Consistency Index. People use these statistics to try to compare players across generations and identify a GOAT (Greatest of All Time). This is an impossible task, but it is a truly interesting debate. It is easy to make cases for guys like Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Cy Young, Sandy Coufax, or Nolan Ryan, and these cases are very persuasive. However, it is my opinion that one person doesn't get enough support in this conversation.
Henry "Hank" Louis Aaron, nicknamed Hammerin' Hank, made his MLB debut with the Boston Braves in 1954 at the age of 20. In that game, he had no hits in 5 at-bats. This was not at all indicative of how his 22 year career would unfold. Hank Aaron is best known for breaking Babe Ruth's record of 714 for the most homeruns in a career. Aaron hit his record-breaking 715th homerun on April 8, 1974. Not only is the record impressive, but he did so in the midst of unbelievable death threats from racists in the South (by this time the Braves had moved to Atlanta). Aaron would finish his career with 755 homeruns, a record that would stand for 31 years.
The homerun record is just part of the story. As of the date of this writing, 28 major leaguers have 3,000 hits in their career. Aaron collected 3,771 hits in his career, second most in a career at the time of his retirement (now third). One thing of note with this number: if you took away all of Aaron's homeruns, he would still be a member of the 3,000-hit club. This is absolutely incredible for someone that was primarily known for hitting homeruns. In comparison, Frank Thomas, who is considered to be one of the great homerun hitters of the 1990's, had 521 career homeruns and 2,468 career hits. Aaron also holds the record for the most runs batted in (RBI) in a career with 2,297; he is one of three people with more than 2,000 RBI in their career.
In total, Aaron is in the top five in homeruns, hits, extra base hits, total bases, runs batted in, runs score, at-bats, plate appearances, games played, and intentional walks in a career. Most of this was accomplished in the midst of hate mail and innumerable death threats. His ability to hit a baseball is out matched only by his ability to maintain focus on the field despite immense distractions. Taking the circumstances of his career and what he was able to accomplish, Hank Aaron deserves to be in the debate for the title of GOAT.
Allow me to introduce myself. I am a mathematician and programmer. Currently, I am working on a PhD in arithmetic geometry. I like to write about many things including math, sports, programming, education, and technology. If you would like to see my comments more frequently, you can follow me on my social profiles: