In a 1954 series against the Cardinals, Hank Aaron hit his first and second big-league home runs, solidifying his status with the Braves and launching him on a path toward breaking Babe Ruth’s most storied record.
As the Braves entered a three-game series against the Cardinals at St. Louis, media speculation was rampant that Aaron might be benched whenever outfielder Bill Bruton recovered from a viral infection and returned to the lineup.
Aaron ended that talk with a strong series at St. Louis, hitting .500 (8-for-16) with a pair of home runs and three RBI. That performance lifted Aaron’s overall batting average to .333 and propelled him on to a solid rookie season (.280 batting average, 131 hits in 122 games, 27 doubles, 13 home runs and 69 RBI.).
Victim No. 1
In the opener of the Braves-Cardinals series on April 23, 1954, Aaron, batting sixth and playing right field, was 3-for-7 with two runs scored and two RBI in Milwaukee’s 7-5 victory in 14 innings.
In the sixth, with the Cardinals ahead, 4-2, Aaron hit the first of his 755 big-league home runs, a solo shot off starter Vic Raschi. (Aaron would hit .615, 8-for-13, with two home runs and seven RBI in his career against Raschi.)
The Braves tied the score with a run in the ninth. Each team scored in the 13th.
In the 14th, with Cot Deal pitching for St. Louis, Andy Pafko singled with one out. Aaron singled, moving Pafko to second. Joe Presko relieved and the first batter he faced, Johnny Logan, reached on an error by shortstop Solly Hemus, loading the bases. Jim Pendleton, pinch-hitting for pitcher Dave Jolly, singled, scoring Pafko and Aaron. Boxscore
Two days later, on April 25, Aaron hit his second career home run, a solo blast in the fifth inning off starter Stu Miller, tying the score at 1-1. Aaron was 5-for-6 in a game won by the Cardinals, 7-6, in 12 innings. The Cardinals’ right fielder, Stan Musial, was 4-for-6 with a home run. Boxscore
In his book “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story” (1964, Doubleday), Musial wrote of Aaron, “One of the best hitters I ever saw … He has tremendous wrist action.”
In choosing his all-time National League outfield, Musial put Aaron in right, Willie Mays in center and Duke Snider in left. The one weakness Musial noticed in Aaron was “the slider bothered him enough to cause him to lose patience and often swing more wildly than he probably intended.”
Aaron hit 91 career home runs against the Cardinals. Only the Reds (97) and Dodgers (95) yielded more home runs to him.
The Cardinals pitcher who gave up the most home runs to Aaron was a fellow Hall of Famer, Bob Gibson. Aaron hit eight home runs off Gibson, but batted just .215 (35-for-163) against the Cardinals ace. Aaron had more strikeouts (32) than RBI (26) versus Gibson.
In the book “Sixty Feet, Six Inches” (2009, Anchor), Gibson said of Aaron, “The man did not miss a fastball … The worst pitch in baseball is the changeup slider, but I’d throw Aaron that changeup slider and he’d be out on that front foot and hit rockets, two hops to the shortstop. All of our shortstops took balls in the chest off the bat of Aaron. They’d go, ‘Damn, Gibby.’ I’d say, ‘Hey, this is the way I get him out. He’s going to knock you over, so be ready for it.’ “