Past Time: Hammerin’ Hank and the Wayward Pilots

April 8th has a very important place in baseball history.

Coming to bat in Atlanta’s home opener, Hank Aaron took Al Downing deep for his 715th home run, passing the immortal Babe Ruth and claiming his place as the baseball’s all-time home run king.  Aaron, whom Mickey Mantle once called the “best player of (his) era,” reached the mountaintop because of a career of sparkling consistency.  His average isn’t talked about much, but he finished his career with a .305 average, topping .300 14 times.  He also homered 30-plus 15 times.  He finished with a .374 on-base and a staggering .555.

Aaron made the All-Star game 21(!) times and finished in the top five of MVP voting 8 times.  His only MVP came in 1957 when he batted .328 with 44 home runs and 132 RBI’s.  Amazingly, that wasn’t even his best season, statistically speaking. In 1959 he batted a robust .355 with 39 home runs and 123 RBI’s.  His OPS for that season was 1.037, but finished 3rd in MVP voting that year behind Ernie Banks and Eddie Matthews, who homered 45 and 46 times, respectively.

Anytime there’s an opportunity to talk about Henry Aaron’s amazing career, I take it.  His 755 home runs, rightfully the statistic that is inseparable from any conversation about him, seems to overshadow just how complete a hitter, and indeed — a ballplayer (he also captured 3 gold gloves) — he was.

For anyone who grew up watching Aaron, what can you say about him? What are you memories of his long and illustrious career?

Also on this date, baseball expanded in 1969, bringing four new franchises into the league: the Kansas City Royals, the Montreal Expos, the San Diego Padres, and the Seattle Pilots.

Now, we all know about the Royals, who’ve captured two rings in ’85 and 2015.  The Padres have collected two pennants but couldn’t defeat the Tigers in ’84 or the Yankees in ’98.  The Expos moved to Washington to become the Nationals after the 2004 season.

But what about the Seattle Pilots? What happened to them?

Incredibly, the Pilots lasted just one season in Seattle. Well, they have the distinct honor of being the only team in Major League history to go bankrupt.  Less than one year after their debut in 1969, the Pilots were re-located to Milwaukee by future commissioner and former Milwaukee Braves minority owner Bud Selig. Most of the Pilots’ troubles stemmed from a poor stadium. Sicks’ Stadium — longtime home of the minor league Rainers — never met expectations set forth by Major League Baseball.  Only 19,500 seats of the 30,000 expected were ready by opening day.  Attendance became a regular problem, and there were other issues at the stadium like low water pressure causing toilets not to flush.

Even after Selig purchased the Pilots, the team’s fate sat in limbo as the team had filed for bankruptcy and need to progress through legal proceedings.  Finally, on April 1, 1970, the Pilots were declared bankrupt by a judge.  Just six days before the 1970 season, the team was moving to Milwaukee to become the Brewers.

Baseball would of course make its return to Seattle after when baseball planted the Mariners in the Kingdom in 1977.

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