Aaron begins decade of milestones with 3,000th hit
Hank Aaron already had plenty of accomplishments to his name. But this one was still weighing on him.
“I didn’t eat much [before the game],” Aaron told the Atlanta Constitution on May 17, 1970. “I’m a little bit nervous about all this.”
It didn’t take long for Aaron to break though and join one of baseball’s most exclusive clubs, though. In the second game of a doubleheader against the Reds that day, the Braves right fielder singled in the first to mark his 3,000th career hit.
“I hit a fastball inside for that single, and it looked like it might get in there for a hit,” Aaron told the Associated Press.
After recording hit No. 2,999 one day prior, Aaron couldn’t get the job done in the first game of the twin billing, going 0-for-4 with a strikeout as the Braves fell 5-1 at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field.
“[Jim] Merritt just outsmarted me,” Aaron said of the Reds’ starter, who tossed a complete game. “I kept looking for one pitch, and he gave me another one. He didn’t hang any pitches, either.”
But the 36-year-old Aaron wasted no time getting the Braves going in the nightcap. He came to the plate against Reds starter Wayne Simpson with one out in the top of the first. With his 3,000th hit, Aaron scored second baseman Félix Millan from second and put Atlanta ahead 1-0, as the crowd of 33,217 rose to give Aaron a standing ovation.
In reaching the milestone, Aaron became the ninth member of the 3,000-hit club, joining Cap Anson, Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Stan Musial, Tris Speaker, Honus Wagner and Paul Waner. Aaron was the first to reach 3,000 while also recording 500 career homers.
Musial was the most recent player to record No. 3,000, having accomplished the feat in 1958. The longtime Cardinals outfielder was on hand at Crosley Field that day, joining Braves President William C. Bartholomay on the field to congratulate Aaron and present him with the historic ball.
“I’m grateful you could be here,” Aaron told Musial.
“It was a great thrill to see you do it,” Musial, who was a newly minted Hall of Famer, having been inducted in 1969, replied.
Aaron wasn’t ready to stop there, though. In the top of the third, he slugged a two-run homer to deep center field, extending the Braves’ lead to 3-0. He added a single in the top of the 10th to finish the day 3-for-5 with three RBI, two walks and a strikeout – but the Braves couldn’t hold on to two separate three-run leads, losing the contest 7-6 on a walk-off single in the 15th.
“Sure, I’m thrilled to get that 3,000th hit, but I don’t feel good about those two losses,” Aaron said. “My next goal? It’s for our team to win a ballgame.”
Over the course of his legendary career, even the venerable Aaron faced his share of dry spells – he just knew how to push through them.
“I’ve had slumps like anyone else,” Aaron told United Press International. “The trick is to just keep swinging and hits will start to fall again.”
Aaron and Musial would reunite in Cooperstown 12 years later, when Aaron was inducted as a part of the Class of 1982.
Janey Murray was the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum