The 10 greatest games of Henry Aaron

Emma Jacko, 5, looks at the Hank Aaron statue at the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory in
Emma Jacko, 5, looks at the Hank Aaron statue at the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory in / Joseph Cooke/The Courier-Journal / USA

You can make an argument that Hank Aaron was the greatest hitter of all time.

The support for that statement flows from one of the game’s essential stats, career total bases. Aaron leads that list with 6,856 of them.

How good is that? This good: The runner-up, Albert Pujols, finished his superb career at 6,211 total bases, more than 600 behind Aaron.

Measured another way, Aaron’s lead over Pujols is greater than Pujols’ lead over the guy (Pete Rose, 5,752) who ranks ninth on the list. Now that’s domination.

Major League Baseball today celebrates the 50th anniversary of Aaron’s breaking of Babe Ruth’s career home run record of 714. That occurred on April 8, 1974.

The home run he hit in the fourth inning of a game the Braves eventually won 7-4 over visiting Los Angeles was pivotal to that game’s outcome. It tied the game 3-3 and, with a Win Probability Added score of .234, was the single biggest Braves play of that evening. Yet, measured over the course of Aaron’s nearly 3,300 games, it was not especially pivotal.

Here are the 10 games in which Aaron’s contributions were most pivotal. The standard of measurement is Win Probability Added. Win Probability Added tends to emphasize late-inning game-turning accomplishments, judging the player’s contribution within the broader context of winning the game.

10. June 24, 1972 (Game 2), Braves 6, Los Angeles Dodgers 4. At Dodger Stadium, Aaron’s fourth inning helped Atlanta score its first two runs, but the home team still carried a 4-3 lead into the late innings. His sixth inning single was wasted, but Aaron led off the eighth against reliever Jim Brewer with a game-tying home run into the left field seats.

There were runners at first and third with one out when Aaron came up again in the ninth, this time  against knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm. He fought off one of Wilhelm's floaters with a bad hop single past third baseman Ron Cey that gave the Braves a 5-4 lead. Aaron Win Probability Added: .609.

9. July 17, 1969, Braves 6, Houston Astros 5. At Fulton County Stadium, the Braves trailed the Astros 4-0 entering the bottom of the seventh. But four singles and a walk produced three runs and left runners at first and third for Aaron. Facing Fred Gladding, he piled on, singling up the middle to tie the game.

The tie remained at 5-5, when Aaron led off the bottom of the ninth against Jack Billingham. He smoked a game-winning home run deep into the left field seats to seal the victory. Aaron Win  Probability Added: .631.   

8. May 5, 1959, Braves 3, Los Angeles Dodgers 2. Behind Don Drysdale, the Dodgers carried a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the seventh at County Stadium when Aaron’s single drove home Bill Bruton, who had doubled, with the tying run.

From there the game became an endurance test, neither team scoring over the next eight innings. But in the bottom of the 16th, Braves pitcher Bob Rush – forced to hit because Milwaukee had depleted its bench – came through with a ground single into left field. After Bruton fanned and Eddie Mathews forced Rush at second, Aaron ended the marathon with a shot deep into center field that allowed Mathews to beat the throw home for the decisive run. Aaron Win Probability Added: .645.

7. June 21, 1971, Braves 6, Montreal Expos 4. The Braves trailed Montreal 4-1 entering the bottom of the eighth inning at Fulton County Stadium, Aaron having been held to a harmless single in his first three at bats. Then the Braves offense broke out.

Mike Lum began the assault with a home run and, one out later, Hal King also homered to pull Atlanta within a run, 4-3. After Ralph Garr walked, Claude Raymond came in to retire Sonny Jackson for the second out.

Aaron was next and he delivered the coup de grace, a long home run into the left field seats that gave the Braves a 5-4 lead. After Darrell Evans followed with the inning’s fourth homer, Cecil Upshaw pitched an uneventful ninth. Aaron Win Probability Added: .685.

6. July 26, 1968  (Game 1), Braves 5, Philadelphia Phillies 4. Behind Rick Wise and Grant Jackson, the Phillies carried a 4-2 lead into the ninth inning at Connie Mack Stadium. To that point, Aaron had been held hitless in four at-bats.

Jackson retired the first two batters in the ninth, then got Felipe Alou to swing at a third strike, apparently ending the game. But the pitch eluded Phillies catcher Clay Dalrymple, Alou reached, and Aaron levied the maximum possible punishment for that slipup. After Felix Millan followed with a base hit, Aaron pummeled a Jackson pitch over the far reaches of the right field wall for a three-run home run that gave Atlanta its eventual 5-4 winning margin. Aaron Win Probability Added: .700.

5. May 1, 1971, Braves 6, Los Angeles Dodgers 5. The Dodgers were a particular favorite Aaron victim; four of his 10 most decisive games came against Los Angeles. On this evening at Fulton County Stadium, Aaron’s two-run first inning home run failed to prevent the visitors from carrying a 3-2 advantage into the bottom of the eighth.

In that bottom of the eighth, Aaron stood in against Pete Mikkelson with one on and one out and produced his second home run of the evening, a shot into the left field seats. LA retaliated with two runs in the top of the ninth, but in the bottom half, Aaron’s teammates carried the load, scoring three times for the victory. Aaron Win Probability Added: .707.  

4. July 12, 1962, Braves 8, St. Louis Cardinals 6. At County Stadium, the Cardinals scored three times in the first and carried a 6-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth. Aaron’s contributions amounted to three singles, one of which led to a Milwaukee run.

Then with one out in the bottom of the ninth, Tommie Aaron homered and Roy McMillan singled. Cardinal manager Johnny Keane summoned his relief ace, Lindy McDaniel, to face the middle of the Milwaukee order, but the Braves were not to be stopped.

After Mack Jones singled, McDaniel worked around the left-handed Eddie Mathews, preferring to take his chances with the right-handed Aaron with the bases full. Big mistake: Aaron’s grand slam over the left field fence gave Milwaukee a stunning victory. Aaron Win Probability Added: .744.

3. Sept. 13, 1972, Cincinnati Reds 8, Braves 6. Sometimes players excel in losing efforts. Two of Aaron’s best three performances came, ironically, in defeats.

Aaron’s contributions began innocently enough, with a bases loaded walk in the second that tied the game 3-3. In the fifth, Aaron walked again and scored on another bases loaded walk, tying the game again 4-4. His home run opening the seventh pulled Atlanta within a run, 6-5.

Aaron’s second home run, off Joe Hoerner in the bottom of the ninth, sent the game into extra innings. But in the bottom of the 10th Johnny Bench homered to give Cincinnati its winning advantage. Aaron’s three-for-three day, with two homers, two walks and three RBI, went for naught. Aaron Win Probability  Added: .784.

2. Aug. 18, 1959, Los Angeles Dodgers 7, Braves 6. After being retired in his first two at-bats, Aaron came up in the bottom of the sixth inning with Milwaukee facing a 5-1 deficit. Facing Don Drysdale, he homered over the center field fence. His leadoff eighth inning single helped pull the Braves within a run at 5-4.

Milwaukee still trailed when Aaron came up with two out and BIll Bruton on first base in the bottom of the ninth. His fly ball to center looked like a game-ending out, but Don Demeter dropped the ball and, before he could recover, Bruton had raced around the bases with the tying run.

The Dodgers scored in the 11th, but Aaron offset that with a game-tying home run that kayoed Drysdale. After the Dodgers scored to take a 7-6 lead in the top of the 13th, Aaron came up with two out and Bruton carrying the tying run at second base. Dodger manager Walter Alston wasn’t about to be burned by Aaron again; he ordered an intentional walk, and Larry Sherry retired the next hitter to end the game. Aaron Win Probability Added: 1.112.

1.       Sept. 10, 1971, Braves 7, San Francisco Giants 5. Through seven innings at Fulton County Stadium, Aaron had done little to boost his team, which trailed the division leaders 3-1. But in the eighth, he doubled off Gaylord Perry, scoring Ralph Garr. Moments later, Earl Williams’ sacrifice fly scored Aaron with the tying run.

In the top of the 10th, San Francisco scored, but with one out in the bottom half, Aaron doubled, scoring on Mike Lum’s base hit. The Giants retook the lead in the top of the 11th, but Jim Breazeale singled off Jerry Johnson, and after Felix Millan walked, Aaron came up in position to deliver a walk-off. He produced the biggest one, a three-run shot over the right field fence capping his team’s third comeback rally of the night, all of which he had played a key part in. Aaron Win Probability Added: 1.159.

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