The Atlanta Braves played their first season in Georgia in 1966. It’s not uncommon for teams to relocate, and in the 1950s and 60s, it was far more common than in today’s game. But for the Braves, their new home was quite different after spending the last twelve seasons as residents of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The last time the Braves played a postseason game in Milwaukee, Bob Uecker, Milwaukee’s long-time play-by-play announcer, was a power-hitting prospect. Even more impactful, Milwaukee’s clean-up hitter was Henry “Hank” Aaron, the most prolific home run hitter in the game.
Why is this important? On January 22nd, 2021, Henry Aaron passed away, two weeks shy of pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training.
Throughout the entire 2021 season, the Atlanta Braves have honored the great slugger with his number mowed into centerfield, patches on their uniforms, and his number 44 embroidered on their hats. And now, the two cities where he helped baseball take root are facing off against each other in the NLDS.
It’s impossible to put into words what Aaron meant to the world, both on the field and off. But it’s worth taking a moment to realize that these two teams wouldn’t exist without Aaron’s contributions to the game.
It took just five seasons for baseball to return to Milwaukee after the Braves headed south. The Seattle Pilots, who couldn’t gain footing in the Pacific Northwest, moved east and settled into County Stadium. The Milwaukee Brewers were born, and they played in the House that Aaron Built, where Milwaukee toppled the fabled Yankees of the 1950s.
In Atlanta, the Braves were a middle-of-the-road team for the first few seasons, dancing around the .500 mark, only appearing in one postseason series in 1969. But the biggest star on their roster remained Henry Aaron. For the first seven seasons in Atlanta, Aaron led the Braves in home runs.
After he broke Ruth’s record and the sun began going down on his career, Aaron started to think about how he wanted to walk off the diamond. In his last at-bat as a Brave, Aaron blasted home run #733 and headed into the offseason with his contract about to expire. And that’s when Aaron decided to return home.
Hank Aaron asked the Braves for a trade to Milwaukee, who could play him as a Designated Hitter, prolonging his baseball career. And the accolades and coincidences did not stop coming. In 1975, Aaron broke baseball’s all-time RBI record, another of Ruth’s longheld records, by driving in his 2,213th run. That year’s All-Star game would be held in Milwaukee and would be Aaron’s last time being honored as a player in the Midsummer Classic. Why is that significant? Aaron’s first All-Star Game, which had taken place twenty years prior, was also held in Milwaukee.
And now, here we are, in the year of his death, in a season draped in his legacy and celebration of this life, the two cities he brought America’s pastime to are facing off in the NLDS.
At times like this, it is impossible not to be romantic about baseball.
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