Some families are naturally geared for sports. Consider the Mannings, with two generations of NFL players and a third on the way. In the NBA, brothers Stephen and Seth Curry are both so good that they met in last season’s Western Conference Finals. They haven’t played on the same team. But Hank Aaron and his brother Tommie certainly did.
It’s a similar story to the Curry family. Seth is a great player overshadowed by his MVP sibling. Tommie was a great defensive player who simply couldn’t match the level of his brother Hank, who happens to be one of the best MLB players of all time. Here’s their story.
The Aaron brothers’ upbringing
Before he became Hammerin’ Hank, Henry Aaron grew up poor alongside his brother Tommie in Mobile, Alabama through the ’30s and ’40s. The Great Depression pulled down the financial standing of the already precarious Aaron family toward poverty levels. The boys had to go to work.
They picked cotton and worked odd jobs to help their family make ends meet, according to the Society for American Baseball Research. Baseball became something of an obsession for both in their downtime. They couldn’t afford equipment, so they joined sandlot games, often using broom handles instead of real bats. At home, they tossed bottle caps in the air to practice hitting.
Henry, a few years older than Tommie, first got paid for his baseball services with a Negro League affiliate team. At $3 per game, he could call himself a pro baseball player — on the weekends when he wasn’t at school. His first real contract was in 1952, with a mainline Negro League team, the Minneapolis Clowns. A couple of years later, he made it to MLB. Four years after that, Tommie followed him.
How the Aaron boys fared in MLB
Both Hank and Tommie played for the Milwaukee Braves. They cast different figures in the majors, although both were athletically gifted. Generally, Hank was an all-arounder, while Tommie was especially talented on defense.
For Tommie’s first year, it didn’t necessarily look like he’d be most valued for one side of the game. He racked up eight home runs, a feat for a rookie at the time. But his hard swinging went cold almost immediately. According to Baseball Reference, he only hit five more home runs for the remaining six years of his MLB career.
Hank, on the other hand, was an explosive offensive force the likes of which the league wouldn’t see again. Across his 23-year career, Hammerin’ Hank knocked 755 balls straight out of the park, reports Baseball Almanac.
The unique feat achieved by Tommie and Hank Aaron
Tommie and Hank got to enjoy a rare experience in pro sports: played together for seven solid years (with the Braves). And they even achieved a special moment that remains a rarity in sports. The brothers both appeared in the same League Championship game on the same team.
The next time we might see something likely this probably won’t be in baseball. Giannis Antetokounmpo and his brother Thanasis play on the Milwaukee Bucks together. Mostly on the back of Giannis’ MVP-caliber play, the Bucks have a reasonable shot to get deep into the playoffs when the NBA returns.
Tommie passed away in 1984, but he left his mark on the game. He was noted for his dedicated worth ethic and generous approach to the clubhouse. While he won’t join his brother in the Baseball Hall of Fame, an award is named in his honor. The Richmond Braves, a minor league affiliate of the Atlanta-based franchise, still hands out the Tommie Aaron Memorial Award to the most valuable player on the team each year.