As you all know, the Atlanta Braves have an extremely long and storied history. It's one that the franchise is extremely proud of (as evidenced by the fact that this statement has been emblazoned on the outfield wall at Turner Field for quite some time now), and one that has gone from the epicenter of New England to Dairy Country in the Midwest and finally to our beautiful city in the South. But today, it's time to focus on the man who had an incredible connection to the two latter cities in that last sentence: Good ol' Hammerin' Hank Aaron!
I'm not going to bog you down with his career stats, but you should take a look at them. Seriously, go take a look at his fangraphs page and his Baseball-Reference page, since it's just as beautiful. The one thing that sums it up for The Hammer is that the man, in my eyes, basically had a 17-year prime. That is absolutely absurd, but that's what you need in order to become the Home Run King (or you just need to magically tap into a wellspring of power in the latter stages of your career like our good friend in San Francisco did).
However, one of the best seasons of his career was actually one of his earliest, and that was 1957. Not only is that a special year for Hank Aaron, but that was also a special year for the Braves franchise and the city of Milwaukee, but we'll get to that later. But for now, take a look at this statline from Hank Aaron in '57: .322/.378/.600, .410 wOBA, .278 ISO, 44 HRs, 132 RBI, and 164 wRC+ for a grand total of 7.6 fWAR and a nice MVP trophy to go in the chest while just barely missing out on a Triple Crown season. If those numbers look crazy, then just imagine the fact that he was hovering around that area for the the nearly the next 2 decades. Unreal, man. Absolutely unreal.
1957 didn't turn out to be Aaron's best statistical season (according to fangraphs, it's barely top 5!), but it was the most successful season because of what the team accomplished along the way. The '57 Braves finished 95-59, which included one heck of a finishing kick near the end of the season: An 8-game winning streak in late September. The 7th game of that streak, however, was the most important.
Now remember, this is 1957 so there was no Postseason back then (and there wouldn't be for another 11 years until the expansion season of 1969). Technically, the World Series was the Postseason. The team with best record from each league won the pennant. So instead of popping champagne for a little ol' divisional title or wild card berth, only 1 team from each league would have the honor of celebrating, and this season, the Braves got that honor.
On Monday, September 23rd of that year, the St. Louis Cardinals rolled into town with their backs against the wall. They were in 2nd place, but the Braves needed just 1 more victory to clinch the pennant. The Cardinals fought admirably, taking a 2-1 lead into the 6th inning of that game, but that was the inning when the Braves tied it at 2, and it stayed that way going into extra innings.
In the 11th inning, after a scoreless frame from St. Louis in the top half of that inning, Hank Aaron eventually came up to bat with 1 out and a runner on 1st. After getting the great Eddie Matthews to fly out to center field, you'd probably get the impression that Cardinals pitcher Billy Muffett figured that all he needed to do was take care of business against Hank Aaron and the game would continue. After all, Matthews was only 1-6 on the day, and Aaron was only 2-5. However, The Hammer struck to make his line for the day 3-6, and that 3rd one was a biggie, as you'll see below:
<iframe src='http://m.mlb.com/shared/video/embed/embed.html?content_id=20368147&topic_id=6479266&width=400&height=224&property=mlb' width='400' height='224' frameborder='0'>Your browser does not support iframes.</iframe>
Although the video doesn't show where the ball landed, Baseball-Reference's WPA chart said that the ball went to "deep CF." That's B/R-enese for "He freaking clobbered the ball." The 2-run walk-off homer put the Braves franchise into the World Series for the first time in their Milwaukee years and the first time overall since 1948. In one of the best images you'll see concerning the Braves, Hank Aaron was given the hero's treatment: He was carried off the field in celebration.
Photo Credit: AP
Of course, the run didn't end there for the Braves. Despite going down 2-1 in the 1957 World Series against the Yankees, the Braves fought back to tie the series at 2 with an extra-innings walk-off victory in Game 4. Reportedly, Hank Aaron hit a dinger that left County Stadium altogether. I'm sure that wasn't the first, and I'm just as sure that it wasn't the last, either. Aaron hit 3 homers in that World Series, but the accomplishment he's probably the most proud of is his RBI single in Game 7 that helped contribute to a 5-0 win for the Braves, which gave them the 1957 World Series title.
As I said earlier, Hank Aaron had plenty of better statistical seasons, but when you win a World Series and get recognized as MVP in the same year, it's hard to beat the year of 1957 for Hank Aaron. Aaron agrees, as evidenced by this quote from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
Aaron finished his career with 755 home runs and in 1974 hit his 715th, which broke Babe Ruth's all-time record. That home run was named baseball's most dramatic moment by a panel of experts in 1976, but Aaron begged to differ.
"If I had to choose one great moment in my life," he said, "I'd have to say that one in Milwaukee [in 1957] was it."
So, here's to Hank Aaron. Anytime we can celebrate this legend, this titan of the game, we should. And here's to the fantastic season that he had in 1957.
<iframe width="420" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/7VCqDCXrqmQ" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>