Henry Louis Aaron (February 5, 1934 – January 22, 2021), nicknamed "Hammer" or "Hammerin' Hank", was an American professional baseball right fielder and designated hitter who played 23 seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB), from 1954 through 1976. Considered one of the greatest baseball players in history, he spent 21 seasons with the Milwaukee / Atlanta Braves in the National League (NL) and two seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers in the American League (AL). At the time of his retirement, Aaron held most of the game's key career power-hitting records. He broke the long-standing MLB record for home runs held by Babe Ruth and remained the career leader for 33 years. He hit 24 or more home runs every year from 1955 through 1973 and is one of only two players to hit 30 or more home runs in a season at least fifteen times.
Aaron holds the MLB records for the most career runs batted in (RBIs) (2,297), extra base hits (1,477), and total bases (6,856). Aaron is also third all-time for career hits (3,771) and fifth in runs scored (2,174). He is one of only four players to have at least 17 seasons with 150 or more hits. Aaron's ability as a hitter can be illustrated by his still having over 3,000 hits even without counting any of his home runs. He was an NL All-Star for 20 seasons and an AL All-Star for one season, and he holds the record for the most All-Star selections (25), while sharing the record for most All-Star Games played (24) with Willie Mays and Stan Musial. He was a three-time Gold Glove winner, and in 1957, he won the NL Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award when the Milwaukee Braves won the World Series.
Aaron was born and raised in and around Mobile, Alabama, one of seven children. He appeared briefly in the Negro American League and in minor league baseball before starting his major league career. By his final MLB season, Aaron was the last former Negro league baseball player on a major league roster. During his time in Major League Baseball, and especially during his run for the home run record, Aaron and his family endured extensive racist threats. His experiences fueled his activism during the civil rights movement.
Aaron was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1982 and Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 1988. In 1999, MLB introduced the Hank Aaron Award to recognize the top offensive players in each league. That same year, he was one of 30 baseball players elected to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002. After his retirement, Aaron held front office roles with the Atlanta Braves, including the senior vice president, and resided near Atlanta until his death in 2021.
Willie Howard Mays Jr. (born May 6, 1931), nicknamed "the Say Hey Kid", is an American former center fielder in Major League Baseball (MLB). Regarded as one of the greatest players ever, Mays ranks second behind only Babe Ruth on most all-time lists, including those of The Sporting News and ESPN. Mays played in the National League (NL) between 1951 and 1973 for the New York / San Francisco Giants and New York Mets.
Born in Westfield, Alabama, Mays was an all-around athlete. He joined the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League in 1948, playing with them until the Giants signed him upon his graduation from high school in 1950. He proceeded to win the Rookie of the Year Award in 1951 after hitting 20 home runs to help the Giants win their first pennant in 14 years. In 1954, he won the NL MVP Award, leading the Giants to their last World Series title before their move to the West Coast. His over-the-shoulder catch of a Vic Wertz fly ball in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series is one of the most famous baseball plays of all time. After the Giants moved to San Francisco, Mays went on to win another MVP Award in 1958 and later led the Giants to the 1962 World Series, this time losing to the New York Yankees. He ended his career with a return to New York after a mid-season trade to the New York Mets in 1972, retiring after the team's trip to the 1973 World Series. He served as a coach for the Mets for the rest of the decade, and later rejoined the Giants as a special assistant to the president and general manager.
A 24-time All-Star, tying him for the second most in history, Mays became a perennial MVP candidate, finishing in the top six in the voting in eleven of the next twelve seasons, twice as runner-up in 1958 and 1962. He led the NL in home runs four times and in slugging percentage five times while batting over .300 and posting 100 runs batted in (RBI) ten times each. Mays was also at the forefront of a resurgence of speed as an offensive weapon in the 1950s, leading the league in stolen bases four times, triples three times and runs twice, with his 179 steals during the decade topping the major leagues. He was the first NL player to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in the same season, the first player in history to reach both 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases, and the second player and the first right-handed hitter to hit 600 home runs. Mays also set standards for defensive brilliance, winning 12 consecutive Gold Glove Awards after their creation in 1957, still a record for outfielders; he led NL center fielders in double plays five times and assists three times.
A classic example of a five-tool player, Mays finished his career with a batting average of .302. At the time of his retirement, he held the NL record for career runs scored (2,062), and ranked second in league history behind Stan Musial in games played (2,992), third in at bats (10,881), runs batted in (1,903), total bases (6,066), extra-base hits (1,323) and walks (1,464), fourth in hits (3,283), fifth in slugging percentage (.557), and eighth in doubles (523); his 140 triples ranked fourth among players active after 1945. He holds major league records for games as a center fielder (2,829), putouts as an outfielder (7,095) and extra-inning home runs (22), and ended his career behind only Ty Cobb in total games as an outfielder (2,842) and ranking seventh in assists (188) and third in double plays (59) in center field. Mays was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979 in his first year of eligibility, and was named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team in 1999. President Barack Obama presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.