Aaron hit his stride in '57 MVP season
Editor's note: This year marks two significant anniversaries in Milwaukee baseball. Fifty years ago, the Braves won gave the city its only World Series championship by beating the Yankees in seven games. Twenty-five years ago, the Brewers made it to the Series and lost to St. Louis in seven games. In this exclusive series, OnMilwaukee.com sports columnist Gregg Hoffmann looks back at key events from both those seasons.
As Henry Aaron went through workouts in March of 1957 in Florida, he was getting ready for what would be a MVP season.
The Braves' outfielder had led the National League with a .328 average in 1956 and developed even further in 1957.
"When I arrived in spring training in 1957, I realized that a batting championship changed a lot of things," Aaron said years later. "First of all, Mrs. Gibson (who ran a rooming house for spring training) informed me that I had finally earned the privilege of staying in the 'big house." I was moving up in the world. (African-American players often had to stay in housing separate from white players in the 1950s.)
"Since, I had proved I could hit for average, the writers started asking me about home runs. My response was that I'd leave the home run championship to stronger guys like Willie Mays and the most important personal goal to me was the batting title. I honestly didn't consider myself a home run hitter."
Originally known as a line-drive hitter, Aaron broke loose for major-league highs of 44 home runs (matching his uniform number), 132 RBI and 369 total bases to lead the Braves to the 1957 NL pennant.
On July 5, Aaron moved two games ahead of Babe Ruth's pace of 1927. He fell off that individual-season record pace, but would eventually pass Ruth for lifetime homers.
"I had two good chances to win the Triple Crown, and 1957 was the first," Aaron recalled in the book, "I Had a Hammer." "The Braves got off to a fast start that year, and most days I found myself in the middle of the action.
"I hit a home run against Hal Jeffcoat as (Lew) Burdette shut out the Reds, 1-0, in the opener, had five singles a few days later against the Pirates, drove in four runs the next day; had a home run and four hits a couple days after that; drove in both runs as we beat the Dodgers, 2-1.
"Then, late in June, I went on a home run streak, hitting seven in eight days. All of a sudden, people started thinking of me as a home run hitter."
Aaron, who had started his career as a shortstop, also showed his versatility when centerfielder Billy Bruton suffered ligament damage in his right knee and was shelved for the season.
That prompted Aaron to move to center, where he performed well but was his worst critic. "I felt like Raggedy Andy out there after watching Bruton play the position like a wizard for three years, but we got by," Aaron said.
Aaron continued to lead the Braves' offense throughout the second half of the season. During one 10-game stretch in August, the Braves scored 91 runs. Aaron hit four homers in that stretch. Eddie Mathews and Wes Covington matched that feat.
On Sept. 23, Aaron's great season climaxed when he homered off the Cardinals' Billy Muffet to give the Braves the game and the NL pennant.
Bob Buege described the homer this way in his book, "The Milwaukee Braves: A Baseball Eulogy": "The slender outfielder with the powerful wrists was the league leader in home runs and runs-batted-in; if anyone could end the game with one swipe of the bat, certainly Aaron could - and did.
"He pounced on Muffet's first pitch and lined it toward the centerfield fence. (Wally) Moon leaped but could not come down with it. The ball landed six feet beyond the wire and took a high bounce into the hands of a leaping spectator. The fan, Hubert Davis, carried off the season's prime souvenir; gleeful Braves players ran onto the field and carried off Aaron, the man of the hour, on their shoulders."
In a classic understatement, Aaron said, "I think that was the most important home run I ever hit."
Years later, he said more about the homer, as documented in "I Had a Hammer": "I galloped around the bases, and when I touched home plate, the whole team was there to pick me up and carry me off the field. People threw scorecards and streamers and confetti in the air. I had always dreamed about a moment like Bobby Thomson had in 1951, and this was it." (Ironically, an injury to Thomson, who hit his historic homer for the Giants and later became a Brave, allowed Aaron to break into the Milwaukee lineup.)
Aaron went on to bat .393 with three homers in the World Series. More will be documented on Aaron's pennant winning homer and that '57 Series in an OnMilwaukee.com story to run in October.
I love these old stories...my grandpa used to tell me them when I was a kid.
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