Category Archives: Henry Aaron

The Broken Ankle That Launched a Hall of Fame Career – Henry Aaron

I have not published this post in three years.  It is an example of how one quirk of fate can have tremendous impact on baseball careers.

On March 13, 1954 during an exhibition game in Florida; Milwaukee Braves outfielder Bobby Thomson broke his ankle sliding into second base on a force play.  Three years after his pennant clinching home run for the New York Giants, Thomson had come to the Braves in a trade to add power to their line-up.  It was a forgone conclusion when spring training began that the Braves’ opening day outfield would be Thomson along with Billy Bruton, and Andy Pafko.  But with Thomson injured, a triple fractured ankle, the Braves had to change their plan.

Twenty-year old Henry Aaron had doubts about making it on the Braves roster that spring.  Purchased from Negro League baseball’s Indianapolis Clowns in 1952, Aaron had spent two years destroying pitchers in the Braves’ minor league system.  While one of the first African-Americans in the Southern Atlantic League (Sally League) in 1953, he hit .362 with 22 home runs and won the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award.  However, Aaron thought at best he would be assigned to the Braves’ Triple A team in Toledo, Ohio.

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But, with Thomson breaking his ankle and reserve outfielder Jim Pendleton (also a former Negro League player) not reporting due to a salary dispute, the Braves’ turned to Aaron.  The next day in his first time in the starting outfield, he hit a home run.  Exceeding his expectations, Aaron left spring training as the Braves opening day left fielder.

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He went hitless in five at bats during the season opener in Cincinnati on April 13, but got two hits in the Braves home opener on April 15.  In St. Louis on April 23 against Cardinal pitcher Vic Raschi, Aaron hit his first Major League home run.  He finished 1954, his rookie season, batting .282 with 13 home runs and 59 RBIs.

To read about the Negro League baseball era  The Last Train To Cooperstown

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Happy Birthday Henry Aaron

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Happy Birthday Henry Aaron!

Today marks the eighty-third birthday of the Hall of Fame (inducted in 1982) outfielder. Born February 5, 1934 in Mobile, Alabama; Aaron signed with the Boston Braves in 1952 after playing half of a season with the Negro League baseball Indianapolis Clowns.  Aaron spent two years destroying pitchers in the Braves’ minor league system.  While one of the first African Americans in the Southern Atlantic League (Sally League) in 1953, he hit .362 with 22 home runs and won the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award.  However, Aaron thought at best he would be assigned to the Braves’ Triple A team in Toledo, Ohio.

On March 3, 1954 during an exhibition game in Florida; Milwaukee Braves outfielder Bobby Thomson broke his ankle sliding into second base on a force play. Three years after his pennant clinching home run for the New York Giants, Thomson had come to the Braves in a trade to add power to their line-up.  It was a forgone conclusion when spring training began that the Braves’ opening day outfield would be Thomson along with Billy Bruton, and Andy Pafko.  But with Thomson out for with a triple fractured ankle, the Braves had to change their plan.

With the previous year’s reserve outfielder Jim Pendleton not reporting to spring training in an effort to get a salary increase, the Braves’ turned to Aaron. The next day in his first time in the starting outfield, he hit a home run.  Exceeding his expectations, Aaron left spring training as the Braves opening day left fielder.

Aaron went hitless in five at bats during the season opener in Cincinnati on April 13, but got two hits in the Braves home opener on April 15. In St. Louis on April 23 against Cardinal pitcher Vic Raschi, Aaron hit his first Major League home run.  He finished 1954, his rookie season, batting .282 with 13 home runs and 59 RBIs.  He finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year award voting behind Gene Conley, Ernie Banks, and Wally Moon.

Jim Pendleton: A Career Altered by Two Hall of Fame Players

Jim Pendleton

Born on January 7, 1924 in St. Charles, Missouri, James Edward “Jim” Pendleton played shortstop for the Chicago American Giants in 1948 after serving in the military during World War II.  At 6’ and 185 pounds, he had speed and range playing the position; plus he could hit. Pendleton missed the desegregation of the US military, an early major step in the civil rights advancement of African Americans. President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 which began the process of ending the racial segregation of the Armed Forces after the speedy infielder had returned to civilian life.  However, Pendleton would be involved in the concurrent major step in African American civil rights, the integration of Major League baseball.

After the 1948 season, it is said the Brooklyn Dodgers paid the American Giants $7,500 for Pendleton’s contract. Two of his Negro League teammates would also sign with Major League teams; Quincy Trouppe with the Cleveland Indians in 1952 and Roberto Vargas With the Milwaukee Braves in 1955.  The “invisible color line” which had kept African Americans and dark-skinned Hispanics out of Major League baseball for nearly half the 20th Century had been erased in 1947 by Jackie Robinson, but the integration process began slowly.  Other than the Dodgers, who along with Robinson had Roy Campanella, the Cleveland Indians were the only other Major League team in 1948 with African American players.  Larry Doby and “Satchel” Paige were on the World Series Champion Indian team that year.

But with Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese the unmovable fixture as the Dodgers’ shortstop, Pendleton spent four years (1949 – 1952) in the team’s minor league system. Before the 1953 season, he was traded to the Milwaukee Braves and converted into an outfielder.  In 120 games he batted .299 that season and hit three straight home runs during a hot streak at the plate.  It would be his best Major League season.

The Braves traded for New York Giant star outfielder Bobby Thomson before the 1954 season. He broke his ankle during spring training and opened the door for Pendleton to become a fixture in the Braves’ outfield.  However, after failing in his attempt to get a higher paying contract, Pendleton arrived at spring training late and not in top shape.   He lost the opportunity to replace Thomson to Henry Aaron; a 21 year old rookie who would go on to have a Hall of Fame career. Pendleton never returned to his 1953 form and spent the remainder of his Major League career as a pinch hitter and reserve outfielder.

After two more seasons with the Braves, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates before the start of the 1957 season and in 1959 traded to the Cincinnati Reds.

Pendleton spent two years in the minor leagues, 1960 -1961, and then resurfaced to play for the Houston Colt 45s in 1962.  It was the inaugural season for the National League expansion team.  Although 38 years old, he had his best statistical season since 1953 playing in 117 games and batting .246 with a career high eight home runs.

To learn more about Negro League baseball history, read “Last Train to Cooperstown”:  http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown.

 

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