Hank Aaron wall museum

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Very hard to find June 18, 1959, JET magazine

I am a huge fan of Henry Aaron and have dedicated a wall in my house to displaying my collection. Click the link below to open a PDF file with my museum inventory.

Hank Aaron Wall Museum

And here are some additional pictures of the collection

2012 Hank Aaron minor league mini-bobble
2012 Hank Aaron minor league mini-bobble
Aaron_panorama
Panorama shot of wall museum
Aaron_cards
Framed collection of Hank Aaron baseball cards, 1954-1976
Aaron_art
Wall art, including original oil painting by Milwaukee artist Tim Rozkadowski
Black_Sports
Hard-to-find “Black Sports” magazine from June 1974
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Baseball’s Greatest Living Player

1948-49 Leaf card of Joe DiMaggio (on my wish list)
1948-49 Leaf card of Joe DiMaggio (on my wish list)

Today marks the 100th birthday of New York Yankees legend Joseph Paul DiMaggio, born November 25, 1914, in Martinez, California. I was first intrigued by Joltin’ Joe as a nine or ten year old kid when I learned that DiMaggio had been voted baseball’s greatest living player on the occasion of its centennial in 1969. I never did see the final tallies, so I don’t know how close the race was between DiMaggio and other then-living greats such as Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, or Willie Mays. However, the fact that DiMaggio outranked them all prompted me to learn more about his career.

My ability to research was limited–this was 1979, and there was no internet. However, I was still able to gather the most salient facts (pre-sabermetrics) about the Yankee Clipper’s career.

  • .325 lifetime batting average
  • 361 lifetime home runs
  • record 56 game hitting streak in 1941
  • brief marriage to Marilyn Monroe
  • nearly the same birthday as me
1979 Topps Record Breaker - Pete Rose
1979 Topps Record Breaker – Pete Rose

The first two bullets were outmatched by both Musial (.331 BA, 475 HR) and Williams (.344 BA, 521 HR), the fourth bullet had nothing to do with baseball, and the fifth was something the voters would not have even known. This led me to believe that 56-game hitting streak must have been the clincher. Notably, it was only a year earlier that Pete Rose’s NL record hitting streak ended at 44, a fact I was reminded of occasionally when opening packs of 1979 Topps.

While I probably still would have voted for Ted Williams, here are three facts about Joe DiMaggio I didn’t know then but find awfully impressive.

One of the Greatest Home Run Hitters Ever!

At the time of his retirement from baseball, Joe DiMaggio ranked fifth on the all-time home run list.

CAREER HOME RUN LEADERS THROUGH END OF 1951 SEASON

  1. Babe Ruth, 714 HR
  2. Jimmie Foxx, 534 HR
  3. Mel Ott, 511 HR
  4. Lou Gehrig, 493 HR
  5. Joe DiMaggio, 361 HR
  6. Johnny Mize, 351 HR (active)
  7. Hank Greenberg, 331 HR
  8. Ted Willams, 323 HR (active)
  9. Al Simmons, 307 HR
  10. Rogers Hornsby, 301 HR

Fifth! Without a doubt, this would have led to contemporary fans, players, and sportswriters regarding him as one of the game’s all-time greatest home run hitters. (As an aside, DiMaggio averaged 34 home runs per 162 games over his career, quite comparable to home run king Hank Aaron’s 37. Of course, as another aside, Ted Williams retired at #3 all-time, and Stan Musial retired at #6.)

The Ultimate Winner

1953 Topps
1953 Topps

DiMaggio played for the Yankees from 1936-1951, aside from three years of military service from 1943-1945. During his 13 years as a Yankee, the team won the American League pennant ten times and the World Series nine times! The only player with more rings than DiMaggio was Yogi Berra, who won 10 titles in 19 years, four of them with DiMaggio as a teammate. And famously, Ted Williams and his Bambino-cursed Red Sox had none.

It’s easy to assume that DiMaggio simply walked into an easy situation. While partly true, there still seemed to be a pronounced DiMaggio effect. When Joltin’ Joe joined the Yankees, the team was three full years removed from its last World Series title, and the 1935 team had won 89 games. In their first four seasons with DiMaggio in centerfield, the Bronx Bombers won 102, 102. 99, and 106 games (under a 154-game schedule!) and won the World Series every year!

Writers just LOVED this guy!

It was baseball writers who voted on the Greatest Living Player and gave Mr. Coffee the nod. Certainly, one could read into the result itself that DiMaggio was a popular player among writers. DiMaggio’s three MVP awards (1939, 1941, 1947) and 10 top ten finishes attest to that as well–particularly when considering that Ted Williams batted .406 with 37 home runs in 1941 and won the Triple Crown in 1947! However, I believe no season speaks to sportswriters’ love affair with DiMaggio more than his 1949 campaign.

Here are the top 10 finishers among position players in the AL MVP race that year, courtesy of Baseball Reference.

Name G AB R H HR RBI SB BB BA OBP SLG
Ted Williams 155 566 150 194 43 159 1 162 0.343 0.490 0.650
Phil Rizzuto 153 614 110 169 5 65 18 72 0.275 0.352 0.358
Tommy Henrich 115 411 90 118 24 85 2 86 0.287 0.416 0.526
Vern Stephens 155 610 113 177 39 159 2 101 0.290 0.391 0.539
George Kell 134 522 97 179 3 59 7 71 0.343 0.424 0.467
Vic Wertz 155 608 96 185 20 133 2 80 0.304 0.385 0.465
Joe DiMaggio 76 272 58 94 14 67 0 55 0.346 0.459 0.596
Eddie Joost 144 525 128 138 23 81 2 149 0.263 0.429 0.453
Lou Boudreau 134 475 53 135 4 60 0 70 0.284 0.381 0.364
Yogi Berra 116 415 59 115 20 91 2 22 0.277 0.323 0.480

No surprise to see DiMaggio in seventh…until you realize that he played less than half the season! While I won’t pretend the next three guys on the list posted gaudy numbers, it’s still just amazing to me to see that DiMaggio could finish seventh among position players while playing in only 76 games. (UPDATE: Okay, maybe this wasn’t as crazy as I thought and proves nothing about being a media darling. Noted for his unpopularity among writers, Ted Williams played 98 games in 1955 but finished fourth.)

Who is today’s Joe DiMaggio?

Joe DiMaggio passed away in 1999 and with his passing reopened the nominations for baseball’s greatest living player. Recognizing that the 1969 election wasn’t simply about stats and records but perhaps rings and popularity as well, I will attempt here to come up with today’s answer in that same spirit.

With perhaps some risk of omitting a deserving candidate, I’ll restrict nominations to only those living players currently among the top 20 in major offensive or pitching categories. (Recall that DiMaggio finished his career fifth all-time in home runs.)

LIVING PLAYERS AMONG TOP 20 IN MAJOR CATEGORIES

  • Batting average – None. Wade Boggs and Rod Carew are 33rd and 34th respectively; Tony Gwynn finished 18th but of course tragically passed away earlier this year.
  • Home runs – Bonds*, Aaron, Mays, A-Rod*, Griffey, Thome, Sosa*, F. Robinson, McGwire*, Palmeiro*, R. Jackson, Ramirez*, Schmidt, McCovey, F. Thomas
  • RBIs – Aaron, Bonds*, A-Rod*, Murray, Mays, Yastrzemski, Griffey, Palmeiro*, Winfield, Ramirez*, F. Robinson
  • Runs – Henderson, Bonds*, Aaron, Rose, Mays, Jeter, A-Rod*, Biggio, F. Robinson, Yastrzemski, Molitor
  • Hits – Rose, Aaron, Jeter, Yastrzemski, Molitor, Mays, Murray, Ripken, Brett, Yount, Winfield
  • Stolen Bases – Henderson, Brock, Raines, Coleman, Morgan, W. Wilson, Campaneris, Lofton, Nixon, Pierre, M. Wills
  • Wins – Maddux, Clemens*, Carlton, Ryan, Sutton, Niekro, Perry*, Seaver
  • Strikeouts – Ryan, Johnson, Clemens*, Carlton, Blyleven, Seaver, Sutton, Perry*, Maddux, Jenkins, P. Niekro, Martinez, Gibson, Schilling, Smoltz, Bunning, Lolich, Mussina
  • ERA – Rivera
1954 Topps rookie card of Hank Aaron
1954 Topps rookie card of Hank Aaron

Next, I’ll narrow things down to only those players who are either on multiple lists or first on at least one list, omitting any players with asterisks. I will then (very subjectively) add in the top seven living players who fail to meet these criteria, resulting in an even 25 nominees–

  • Aaron – HR, RBI, R, H
  • Mays – HR, RBI, R, H
  • Griffey – HR, RBI
  • F. Robinson – HR, RBI, R
  • Murray – RBI, R, H
  • Yastrzemski – RBI, R, H
  • Winfield – RBI, H
  • Henderson – R, H, SB
  • Rose – R, H
  • Jeter – R, H
  • Molitor – R, H
  • Maddux – W, K
  • Carlton – W, K
  • Ryan – W, K
  • Sutton – W, K
  • Niekro – W, K
  • Seaver – W, K
  • Rivera – ERA (first)
  • R. Jackson
  • Schmidt
  • Koufax
  • Brett
  • Brock
  • Bench
  • Morgan

Next, I will add in the number of World Series titles, top ten MVP/CY finishes, and first-ballot Hall of Fame votes. From there, I will manufacture a score based on 2 points for each WS title, 1 point for each MVP/CY top 10 finish, 1 point for each Top 20 category, and the following adjustment based on Hall of Fame voting: +2 if above 95%, +1 if above 90%, and -2 if below 75% (with no adjustment for Pete Rose or non-eligible players).

Baseball’s five greatest living players, in order, now come out as:

  1. Aaron (1-13-97.8-21 points)
  2. Jeter (5-8-N/A-20 points)
  3. Mays (1-13-94.7-20 points)
  4. R. Jackson (5-7-93.6- 18 points)
  5. Rose (3-10-9.5*-18 points)

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen (mostly gentlemen, I’m guessing!)…come baseball’s sesquicentennial in 2019, with Jeter a lock for 95% of HOF voting, baseball’s greatest living player will be Derek Jeter! So maybe all that season-long hype wasn’t for nothing after all!  (But P.S. to the Hammer. You’re still the best till then.)

2014 Topps card of Derek Jeter
2014 Topps card of Derek Jete

Four amazing batting feats…one year…one city!

What a rare combination of average and power that allows a hitter to bat .350 while knocking 30+ home runs! While this feat has been accomplished 10 times since 2000, it only came once from a player not playing at Coors Field or dogged by allegations of steroid use. Stumped? It was Moises Alou back in 2000, when he barely made the club, knocking 30 home runs while batting .355.

An indication of this achievement’s rarity is illustrated by the number of times it occurred between 1962 and 1993–just once: Don Mattingly’s 1986 season where he hit .352 with 31 homers, like Alou just barely making the club.

Given the rarity of .350/30, you may be surprised to learn that it once happened five times in a single season, with four of the hitters playing in the same city. That year was 1929, and the city was Philadelphia.

1934 Goudey card of Jimmie Foxx
1934 Goudey card of Jimmie Foxx

The first baseman for the Philadelpha Athletics was Jimmie Foxx, nicknamed the Beast, one of the game’s all-time greatest power hitters. In just his second full season and at the age of 21, Foxx batted .354 with 33 home runs and a .463 on-base percentage. His 1929 was perhaps the least impressive of the five men.

Teaming with Foxx at Shibe Park was leftfielder Al Simmons. Bucketfoot Al, as he was known, hit .365 that year with 34 home runs and led the AL in RBIs with 157. While the AL handed out no official MVP trophy that year, Simmons was named the league’s top player by The Sporting News.

Meanwhile, across the tracks at the nearby Baker Bowl, the Phillies had a couple impressive bats in their lineup. Rightfielder Chuck Klein, in only his first full season, batted .356 with a league leading 43 roundtrippers, finishing 11th in the NL MVP voting. While it’s hard to fathom these days, Klein’s 43 home runs established a new single season record for the National League, though the record would last under a year!

1933 Goudey card of Lefty O'Doul
1933 Goudey card of Lefty O’Doul

And finally, the fourth Philadelphia phenom was Klein’s mate in the Phillie outfield, leftfielder Frank “Lefty” O’Doul. The runner-up in the NL MVP race, O’Doul led the lead in batting at .398, set an NL record for hits that still stands today with 254, and swatted 32 home runs. It was the first of O’Doul’s two seasons with the Phillies, who couldn’t possibly complain about his stint there. Over the two years, he batted .391, slugged .614, and had an on-base percentage of .460!

As to who the fifth member of 1929’s .350/30 club was, it was none other than Cubbies second baseman Rogers Hornsby, MVP of the National League. Besides hitting .380 with 39 home runs, the Rajah scored 156 runs, batted in 149, and slugged a league best .679.

To put these achievements in perspective, it’s worth looking at just how many times the .350/30 mark has been reached throughout the history of Major League Baseball. While that makes for a lot of data to look through, there’s no need to search before 1920 since no player–regardless of batting average–reached 30 home runs to that point. Well, it took me a few hours, but here is the comprehensive list, sorted by year: 58 instances in all. Players suspected of steroid use are indicated in red, and Coors Field hitters are shown in purple, in case the reader wishes to judge them differently from the other players on the list.

THE .350/30 CLUB

Player BA HR Year
Babe Ruth 0.376 54 1920
Babe Ruth 0.378 59 1921
Rogers Hornsby 0.401 42 1922
Babe Ruth 0.393 41 1923
Babe Ruth 0.378 46 1924
Rogers Hornsby 0.403 39 1925
Babe Ruth 0.372 47 1926
Babe Ruth 0.356 60 1927
Lou Gehrig 0.373 47 1927
Chuck Klein 0.356 43 1929
Rogers Hornsby 0.380 39 1929
Al Simmons 0.365 34 1929
Jimmie Foxx 0.354 33 1929
Lefty O’Doul 0.398 32 1929
Hack Wilson 0.356 56 1930
Babe Ruth 0.359 49 1930
Lou Gehrig 0.379 41 1930
Chuck Klein 0.386 40 1930
Al Simmons 0.381 36 1930
Babe Herman 0.393 35 1930
Babe Ruth 0.373 46 1931
Jimmie Foxx 0.364 58 1932
Jimmie Foxx 0.356 48 1933
Lou Gehrig 0.363 49 1934
Lou Gehrig 0.354 49 1936
Lou Gehrig 0.352 37 1937
Joe Medwick 0.374 31 1937
Jimmie Foxx 0.360 35 1939
Joe DiMaggio 0.381 30 1939
Joe DiMaggio 0.352 31 1940
Ted Williams 0.406 37 1941
Joe DiMaggio 0.357 30 1941
Ted Williams 0.356 36 1942
Stan Musial 0.376 39 1948
Stan Musial 0.355 32 1951
Mickey Mantle 0.353 52 1956
Ted Williams 0.388 38 1957
Mickey Mantle 0.365 34 1957
Hank Aaron 0.355 39 1959
Norm Cash 0.361 41 1961
Don Mattingly 0.352 31 1986
Jeff Bagwell 0.368 39 1994
Frank Thomas 0.353 38 1994
Albert Belle 0.357 36 1994
Alex Rodriguez 0.358 36 1996
Larry Walker 0.366 49 1997
Mike Piazza 0.362 40 1997
Larry Walker 0.379 37 1999
Todd Helton 0.372 42 2000
Manny Ramirez 0.351 38 2000
Moises Alou 0.355 30 2000
Larry Walker 0.350 38 2001
Barry Bonds 0.370 46 2002
Albert Pujols 0.359 43 2003
Todd Helton 0.359 33 2003
Barry Bonds 0.362 45 2004
Albert Pujols 0.357 37 2008
Josh Hamilton 0.359 32 2010

Ignoring the red and purple players, there were six players who accomplished the feat three or more times, and they make up a who’s who list of some of the greatest sluggers ever to play the game:

  • Babe Ruth (8)
  • Lou Gehrig (5)
  • Jimmie Foxx (4)
  • Rogers Hornsby (3)
  • Joe DiMaggio (3)
  • Ted Williams (3)

And for readers who find the .350/30 club not selective enough (!), here are some related clubs with stricter admittance criteria:

THE .375/30 CLUB (with .400/30 members shown in bold)

Player BA HR Year
Babe Ruth 0.376 54 1920
Babe Ruth 0.378 59 1921
Rogers Hornsby 0.401 42 1922
Babe Ruth 0.393 41 1923
Babe Ruth 0.378 46 1924
Rogers Hornsby 0.403 39 1925
Lefty O’Doul 0.398 32 1929
Rogers Hornsby 0.380 39 1929
Babe Herman 0.393 35 1930
Chuck Klein 0.386 40 1930
Al Simmons 0.381 36 1930
Lou Gehrig 0.379 41 1930
Joe DiMaggio 0.381 30 1939
Ted Williams 0.406 37 1941
Stan Musial 0.376 39 1948
Ted Williams 0.388 38 1957
Larry Walker 0.379 37 1999

Post-steroids era, there are very few lists one can still make involving power-hitting that don’t feel tainted. However, this last one manages to succeed. So where a number of early claims around steroid use (e.g., “steroids won’t help you hit a baseball) appear to have been debunked, perhaps one can truly say that steroids won’t help you hit .375 with 30 home runs. Only Coors Field can do that!

1933 Goudey card of Hack Wilson
1933 Goudey card of Hack Wilson

Meanwhile, here’s an even more exclusive club, one that really illustrates just what a special player Mickey Mantle was in his prime. It’s been more than 50 years since a player joined the .350/50 club, and it may well be another 50 years before we see another. Of course, Larry Walker (.366 BA, 49 HR, 1997) might rightly point out that had he played some of his road games at Coors like his NL opponents were able to, he darn well would have made the list!

 THE .350/50 CLUB

Player BA HR Year
Babe Ruth 0.376 54 1920
Babe Ruth 0.378 59 1921
Babe Ruth 0.356 60 1927
Hack Wilson 0.356 56 1930
Jimmie Foxx 0.364 58 1932
Mickey Mantle 0.353 52 1956