Hank Aaron 3,000th Hit Game-Worn Jersey Comes to Auction
3,000 is one of the most important numbers in the data-intensive sport of baseball. Many fans and players view 3,000 career hits as the distinction between an excellent and an all-time great batter. On May 17th, 1970, Hank Aaron found himself sitting right on the cusp: 2,999 career hits. Despite being in the middle of another marquee season, the pressure of this last hit weighed heavily on the 37-year-old batter. “I didn’t eat much,” Aaron told reporters before that day’s game. “I’m a little nervous about this.”
33,217 fans filled Crosley Field in Cincinnati that day, hoping to witness history. In his four at-bats, Hank Aaron struck out, grounded out twice, and sent an easy pop up to center field. No hits; game over. Hank Aaron’s Atlanta Braves, though, were scheduled to play a second game that day. This time, in his first at-bat, Hank Aaron sent a hard-hit ball back up the middle. The future Hall of Famer legged out a single for his 3,000th hit.
While Hank Aaron shied away from the limelight, the numbers he compiled were too substantial for fans or journalists to ignore. Today, most still regard Aaron as one of the greatest baseball players in the game’s history. The bat and ball that made Aaron’s 3,000th hit possible now reside in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Notably absent, though, is the jersey Hank Aaron wore during the game. That item headlines Heritage Auctions’ sports memorabilia sale later this month (lot #80080; estimate: USD 200,000+). Learn more about the jersey and Hank Aaron’s accomplishments before placing a bid.
Heritage Auctions will offer the jersey Hank Aaron wore to surpass the 3,000-hit milestone. Written across the chest in cursive is “Braves.” Four years before Aaron’s hit, the Braves franchise had moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta, where it remains to this day. Below the franchise name, Hank Aaron’s signature graces the jersey. Despite the jersey being over 50 years old, the washing instructions are still legible on its tag.
For Aaron, hitting his 3,000th career hit was a relief. “I’m glad it’s over,” he said after the game. “I wanted to get it over with so I could get on with my business.” Yet his peace would be short-lived, as media attention shifted towards the next (and much larger) milestone on the horizon for Aaron: beating the all-time home run record set by Babe Ruth. Hank Aaron’s workmanlike approach to baseball was once again at odds with the narrative thrust upon him. Much worse, however, was the barrage of racist baseball viewers who took issue with Hank Aaron, a Black man, approaching the late Babe Ruth’s coveted record.
Hank Aaron’s Life, Career, and Auctioned Memorabilia
Hank Aaron grew up in Mobile, Alabama, one of eight children. He remembered his childhood fondly, despite his family’s limited resources. “I tell a lot of people that I was a vegetarian before many people knew what a vegetarian was,” Aaron reminisced. “Because that’s the only thing we ate was vegetables. We ate what we grew in the field.”
The future Hall of Famer had a smattering of experiences playing baseball growing up. He practiced his homerun swing with sticks and bottle caps off the street. He watched from afar as Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier. Aaron’s father played for a semi-pro baseball team, the Mobile Black Bears. While the adults played, the young Hank Aaron sold Coca-Colas in the stands. Often, if he sold all his sodas, the Black Bears would let Aaron play in the latter half of the game.
At the age of 17, Hank Aaron joined the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League. By that time, many of the league’s stars had transitioned over to Major League Baseball. Aaron remembered his time with the Clowns as a strenuous but fulfilling time in his career. He often played three games per day with the Clowns and combined his modest per diem with a teammate so they could afford a jar of peanut butter. The Milwaukee Braves, a Major League team, acquired Hank Aaron in 1952, and he made his MLB debut in 1954.
Many of the highest-selling auction lots related to Hank Aaron come from his rookie season with the Milwaukee Braves. That includes a game-worn jersey, which achieved $167,300 in 2011 with Heritage Auctions. Aaron wore this jersey in both his rookie and second season in the league. Like the jersey coming to auction this month, Hank Aaron also signed this jersey, this time with the message “Best Wishes, Hank Aaron.”
Among the highest-selling pieces of Hank Aaron memorabilia is his 1954 Topps rookie card. Heritage Auctions offered a mint-condition example of the card in February of this year, realizing $645,000. The auction house will also present several of these cards in its August sale, including a near mint-mint example (lot #80014; estimate: $50,000+).
“Hammerin'” Hank Aaron went on to earn an MVP title, a World Series championship, and numerous other awards during his career. At the start of the 1974 season, when Aaron was 40 years old, he broke Babe Ruth’s record for the most home runs in Major League Baseball. This was despite the hate mail and even death threats Aaron received from racist viewers. Beyond the racism he endured, Hank Aaron also grew tired of the media’s fixation on records. “I think that most people thought I was in the game just to try and break a record,” lamented Aaron. “And that was not true. I wanted to have good years, you know.”
Hank Aaron had 23 very good years in Major League Baseball. In 1982, he became a first-ballot Hall of Famer. After his playing career, Aaron served as a top executive for the Atlanta Braves and was a prolific business owner across Georgia. Hank Aaron passed away in January of this year, but his legacy lives on in the world of baseball and beyond.
Heritage Auctions’ Summer Platinum Night Sports sale begins on August 21st, 2021 at 11:00 PM EDT. Collectors can view the lots and place proxy bids ahead of the sale on Heritage Auctions’ website.
Want to learn more about baseball and the auction industry? Staff writer Rebekah Kaufman sat down with Heritage Auctions’ Chris Ivy last year to discuss baseball cards.