Happy birthday Hank Aaron!
The baseball legend of legends turns 85 today. It’s kind of cool how his birthday is one day and Babe Ruth’s is the next. That’s baseball.
But what we’re here to talk about are walk-offs. Aaron had nine walk-off home runs. He hit one that won a pennant for the Braves in 1957, and if you look online, you can find stories and references to that one. So I’m not going to review it.
Here, we like to cite the walk-offs that you might not know about. And I learned today that Hank Aaron’s next-to-last home run was a walk-off. That’s the one I wish to bring up.
It came in the second game of a doubleheader between the Brewers and Rangers in Milwaukee County Stadium. The Brewers won the opener, which Aaron didn’t play in, 6-3, beating future Hall-of-Famer Bert Blyleven in the process.
Aaron started the second game as the Brewers DH. They had won the last four games that he started. He had homered in the most recent one, the 753rd of his career.
This was a hot day. The Baseball-Reference.com box score listed the temperature in the low 90s. And fans had to sweat this game out.
The Rangers took a 2-0 lead in the second inning on a two-run home run by their future GM and future broadcaster, Tom Grieve. It took until the seventh inning to tie it. Bernie Carbo did so with a two-run home run of his own.
But the Rangers responded with two runs in the eighth inning. Future MLB manager Mike Hargrove got the go-ahead hit. The score held at 4-2 until the bottom of the ninth.
With one out, Gorman Thomas tripled and Carbo singled him in. Von Joshua flied to center for the second out, leaving the Brewers one out from defeat. But Darrell Porter walked to advance the tying run to second base.
This brought up the 20-year-old third-year shortstop, who was batting leadoff in this game, Robin Yount. As in, future Hall-of-Famer Robin Yount. Yount was 21 and a half years younger than Aaron. In fact, Yount was born on September 16, 1955. Aaron was batting cleanup for the Milwaukee Braves against the Cardinals that day.
But this Yount was not yet the Yount who would win the AL MVP. In fact, this Yount, who was hitting well at the time, would close the season by hitting .205/.248/.240 in his last 72 games. That the Brewers ran him out every day says something about their belief that he’d come around.
On this day, the clutch Yount emerged. He singled home the tying run.
That allowed Aaron to win the game with his home run in the bottom of the 10th inning. The win completed a five-game sweep of the Rangers. The crowd stuck around after the game, cheering for Aaron to do a curtain call. He had to come back from the locker room to salute them.
It was a nice way for the old and the new to blend together to produce a pretty cool baseball moment.
“The home run I hit in 1957 against the St. Louis Cardinals, which won the pennant was my biggest thrill here,” Aaron told reporters after the game. “But I’d have to say this ranks second.”