I first published this post in 2014. 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.
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 (March 14) 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.
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.