Thursday, February 7, 2019

Where was Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron really born?

Where was Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron really born?

That’s a question I often ponder around this time of year, in the days around his birthday. Aaron, who is currently Senior Vice President of the Atlanta Braves, was born on Feb. 5, 1934, and he celebrated his 85th birthday on Tuesday.

Almost every available source says that Hank Aaron was born in Mobile, but a few others do say that he was actually born in Wilcox County and moved to Mobile when he was a small child.

Members of the Wilcox Historical Society have told me that Aaron was “most certainly” born in Possum Bend, which is just west of Camden. Society members say that Aaron still has a few family members living in Wilcox County, and that they have often told stories about Aaron’s birth in Wilcox County. Those relatives have also acknowledged that Aaron does not claim Wilcox County as his birthplace.

Howard Bryant’s 2010 book, “The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron,” briefly touches on Aaron’s Wilcox County roots, saying that the Aarons were indeed natives of Wilcox County. Bryant wrote that Aaron’s great-grandfather was either one of the first Aarons born free or was one of the last members of the family born into slavery. One source that I checked listed Aaron’s great-grandfather as Henry Aaron Sr., who was born in 1855, and Aaron’s grandfather as Henry Aaron Jr., who was born in 1884.

I do think it’s odd that almost every source outside of Wilcox County says that the legendary home run hitter was born in Mobile. Various sources say that Hank Aaron’s grandfather raised his family in Camden, and his son, Herbert Aaron, moved to Mobile at the age of 19 in 1927 to search for work.

According to Charlie Vascellaro’s book “Hank Aaron: A Biography,” Herbert Aaron and his wife Estella relocated from Camden to the “Down the Bay” section of Mobile, and Hank Aaron was born there in 1934. “By the time Hank was four years old, he was following the bigger kids to Council Field and was already showing a prowess for baseball,” Vascellaro wrote in his book. Other sources say that Aaron spent most of his youth in the Toulminville neighborhood of Mobile.

As a high school freshman and sophomore, Aaron went to Central High School in Mobile and played baseball and football. As a junior, he transferred to a nearby private school called Josephine Allen Institute, which also had a baseball team. In 1951, at the age of 18, he quit school to pursue his career in baseball.

As a side note, I think it’s interesting that Aaron played at Central High School in Mobile because Central was a frequent opponent of the Conecuh County Training School in Evergreen. While I have no proof of it, it’s possible that Aaron may have visited Evergreen as a high school freshman or sophomore to play in games against CCTS.

(In preparation for this column, I did attempt to contact Aaron through his office with the Braves, asking him to settle once and for all the question over where he was actually born. As of press time, Aaron had not responded to my request to put this minor historical debate to rest.)

In the end, while Aaron’s exact birthplace is up for debate, his status as one of the greatest baseball players of all time isn’t. He is best known for breaking Babe Ruth’s home record when he hit his 715th career home run in 1974. When he retired in 1976, he departed the game with 755 career home runs.

He was also a 25-time all-star, the National League MVP in 1957, won three Gold Gloves, was National League batting champion twice, was the National League home run champion four times and was the National League RBI champion four times. In addition to being named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team, his No. 44 jersey was also retired by the Atlanta Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers.

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