In Mobile, Alabama, a home museum and a stadium complex honor baseball great Hank Aaron.
Any time a famous figure’s childhood home is relocated to serve as a museum, you know that person is important. It’s even more compelling to learn that Henry Louis Aaron’s home is the only one ever relocated to honor a professional athlete.
The Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum is the original Aaron family home built by Hank’s Dad, Herbert, in 1942. Originally, 25 feet by 25 feet, it consisted of just three small rooms. Later additions in 1962 and 1972 expanded it to its current seven rooms.
Hank’s mother, Estella lived in the home from 1942 to 2007. In 2008 it was moved from its original location to Hank Aaron Stadium. In 22 months it was restored to its original glory, with the Grand Opening being held on April 14th, 2010. Seven MLB Hall of Famers and the Commissioner of MLB Bud Selig were in attendance.
In 2013, the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum was voted the 8th Best Baseball Museum in the Country—that directly speaks to the legacy of Hank Aaron. Memorabilia for this Museum comes directly from Hank Aaron, the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, the Louisville Slugger Museum, and the Negro League Museum.
“Hank” Aaron was born on February 5, 1934, in Mobile. He was the third of eight children. His family could not afford baseball equipment, so he used materials found on the streets—mostly bottle caps and sticks. His boyhood idol was Jackie Robinson, who in 1947 became the first African-American to play baseball in the major leagues.
Aaron’s high school had no organized baseball team, so as a teen, he played outfield and third base for the semi-pro Pritchett Athletics, and then for the Mobile Black Bears. As a junior in high school, he earned $3 a game, the equivalent of about $30 today.
Aaron quit school, and by 1952, when he was 18, he was playing for the Negro League’s Indianapolis Clowns, earning $200 a month. He also received harsh lessons as a black man in a white society.
Breakfasting with the Clowns one morning in Washington, D.C., in a restaurant behind Griffith Stadium, he was more than startled “hearing them break all the plates in the kitchen after we finished eating,” he later wrote. “What a horrible sound. Even as a kid, the irony of it hit me: Here we were in the capital in the land of freedom and equality, and they had to destroy the plates that had touched the forks that had been in the mouths of black men. If dogs had eaten off those plates, they’d have washed them.”
To endure that kind of prejudice, he needed great mental strength, a quality he believed came from his parents. They instilled into their children “Faith in God, personal integrity, dignity, and a humble spirit,” according to a plaque in the museum.
In 1953 Aaron was playing for the Jacksonville (Florida) Tars in the South Atlantic League. The team’s new owner, Samuel W. Wolfson, replaced the Tars with a minor league club named the Jacksonville Braves, which was affiliated with the Boston (soon to be Milwaukee) Braves. Wolfson brought in Aaron and two other black players, thus integrating the team for the first time. At the end of the season, the 19-year-old was named the league’s Most Valuable Player.
And then came the call from the majors. During a spring training game in March 1954, Milwaukee Braves left fielder Bobby Thomson fractured his ankle. The next day, Aaron made his first spring training start for the Braves. The new left fielder even hit a home run that day. Aaron signed a major league contract on the final day of spring training and was given a Braves uniform with the number 5.
On April 13, 1954, Aaron made his major league debut. “Hammerin’ Hank” had an astonishing 23-year career. He remains on many top-10, best-ever batting lists. Not to mention the fact that he hit 755 home runs. Hank Aaron’s other achievements include batting .300 or better for 14 seasons; first player to reach 500 home runs and 3,000 hits; 2,297 RBIs, the most in history; and selected for 25 all-star games, played in 24.
Back in those days, I was a huge baseball fan. First a big fan of Ted Williams and the Boston Red Socks and am still partial to the Red Socks. Then a big fan of Hank Aaron and the other stars of the Milwaukee Braves—pitchers Warren Spawn and Lew Burdette, catcher Del Crandall, third base Eddie Mathews, and first base Joe Adcock.
Failure is a part of success.