Monday, July 30, 1956, Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, NY, and the young star of the first-place Milwaukee Braves, Henry Aaron, poses for an Associated Press photographer (individual not known) on the visiting dugout steps before a game against the Dodgers. And Hank would bring the lumber that day, going 3-for-5 with 4 RBI including his 16th HR of the season as the Braves held off Brooklyn, 8-6, to stay 2 1/2 games ahead of Cincinnati (and 5 over the third place Dodgers). The victory was also the Braves’ seventh straight of the season against Brooklyn at that point; however, although they won 12 of 22 contests against the Dodgers in 1956, they could’ve used at least one more; despite the Braves having a lead in the NL for a good part of the summer, the Dodgers would win 4 out of the next 5 against Milwaukee, putting them back in the race that Brooklyn would eventually win over the second-place Braves – by one game.
Well, you couldn’t blame Aaron for that near-miss. At only 21 years old in 1955, Hank batted .314 with 27 HRs and 106 RBIs, and led the NL in doubles, earning him his first career All-Star berth (a few more would follow). And in 1956 (above), Hank improved on the previous solid season by leading the NL in batting average (.328), doubles (again) and total bases, with an MLB best 200 hits, again making the All-Star team (prior to the photo above) and coming in third in NL MVP voting.
In 1957, Hank would not be denied – he rose to the pinnacle of the sport, leading the major leagues in HRs, RBIs and total bases (44/132/369) to win the 1957 NL MVP, leading the Milwaukee Braves to their first pennant (with 8 games to spare) and their only world championship. And of course, he maintained this exceedingly high level of production throughout his career, with an astounding 25 All-Star appearances, 8 seasons of 40 or more HRs, and passing Babe Ruth in 1974 for the all-time HR record (since passed by only Barry Bonds), finishing with 755. He also passed Ruth for the all-time RBI record (that still stands) at 2,297, and maybe even more impressively, stands as the all-time leader in total bases (6,856), which is over 700 more than second-place Stan Musial (700!).
But back in late July 1956, young Hank was sitting on only 55 career HRs and two All-Star appearances at that point, although he does look very content and confident above, on that early summer evening in Brooklyn long ago. Was he thinking he may become one of the best ballplayers of all time? I wouldn’t doubt it.