During his playing days, “Hammerin’” Hank Aaron was often overlooked in favor of some of his peers such as Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, but by the time he retired there were no doubts that Aaron was a bastion of class and consistency—and he held the all-time home run record, too.
Despite never hitting more than 47 home runs in a season, Aaron blasted 755 during his career, breaking Babe Ruth’s record of 714 in the first days of the 1974 season. Aaron’s record stood until 2007 when it was broken by Barry Bonds. Some still consider Aaron to hold the legitimate record, though, due to Bonds’ alleged steroid use. Even with his official record gone, Aaron remains baseball’s all-time RBI leader, with 2,297.
Aaron’s home run balls may be his most attractive collectors’ item. They are limited in number and difficult to authenticate, but when collectors get their hands on them, these balls are often centerpieces of collections.
When Aaron broke into the league with the Milwaukee Braves in 1954, few could have predicted that he would one day be home run king—that year he hit just 13 home runs. Aaron’s lone rookie card, a 1954 Topps, is his most collectible baseball card. It features two images of Aaron. One is a full-card portrait of Aaron in his Braves cap; the other is a smaller inset shot of him bending down to field a ground ball, even though he was an outfielder. The card is not difficult to find in high-grade, yet it's still a favorite among collectors for its vivid portrayal of the young man.
Just a few years into his career, Aaron asserted himself as one of the stars of the game. In 1957 he had what most fans consider his best season. That year Aaron won his only National League Most Valuable Player (MVP) award and his only World Series title. For the year he hit .322 and led the league with 44 home runs and 132 runs batted in.
In the World Series, Aaron’s Braves defeated the New York Yankees in seven games. In commemoration of the showdown between the clubs, Topps released a “World Series Batting Foes” card featuring Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron in 1958. It is the only card to feature both future Hall of Famers, and it shows them both with bat in hand and smiling, though positioned as if ready for a duel.
The Braves and Yankees met again in the 1958 World Series, giving even more credence to the Topps card. This time, the Yankees prevailed in seven games...
Also released in 1958 was a very popular regional set featuring Aaron: the Hires Root Beer set. The Hires Root Beer Aaron is an attractive card. It shows Aaron kneeling in full uniform, a tan Hillerich & Bradsby Louisville Slugger bat in his hands. This card's value is complicated, however, because it came with a removable tab that was used to prop it up for display in the pack of root beer. It was supposed to be removed, so many price guides only list the card without the tab because it is so difficult to find with the tab intact, but that doesn't mean collectors don't try.
Through the end of the 1950s and into the 1960s, Aaron continued to be a prolific player, going to All-Star game after All-Star game. In 1966, he was among those Braves who moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta.
In 1973, with Aaron fast approaching Ruth’s mark, a Hank Aaron-themed board game entitled, “Hank Aaron Baseball Game” was released by Ideal. The game required one player, the pitcher, to send a small wooden ball down a plastic chute (the pitcher could throw different pitches depending on how he or she released the ball), and a batter tried to hit the ball by spinning a dial which controlled the bat. The game was only briefly issued, and is thus collectible for Aaron aficionados.
The 1973 season ended with Aaron one home run shy of Ruth’s record. After a winter full of death threats and bigotry—many Americans did not want a black man to break Ruth’s record—Aaron tied the record in his first at-bat of the ’74 season before taking Al Downing deep a few days later on April 8 to break the record.
That year, electronics company Magnavox released a “Hank Aaron 715 Club Membership Kit.” The kit included a 2’ by 3’ poster of Aaron’s record breaking home run, a membership card, a badge, and a sportscaster guide. It is difficult to find the entire kit intact, though the poster, especially when autographed by Aaron, is the most popular item.
Aaron retired after the 1976 season, and five years later he was inducted into the Hall of Fame with 97.83 percent of the vote, which at the time was the second highest percentage ever received by a player, after Ty Cobb.