I love the pic shown above. It shows Hank Aaron on the left and Willie Mays on the right. This is a picture with some historic significance.
It shows two players with uniforms of the towns they started their career at, but uniforms of two totally different clubs. The picture also shows something that I never knew: The Mets played with pillbox caps.
Hank Aaron made his MLB debut in 1954 for the Milwaukee Braves, the team that had moved from Boston to Milwaukee in the previous year. Aaron started his professional career with the Indianapolis Clowns. He stood out as a player and attracted the attention of two MLB teams soon: The New York Giants and the Boston Braves. With the contract of the Giants in his hands when the Braves offered him 50 dollars per month more. According to Aaron that was what kept Willy Mays and him from being team mates. Anyhow, a long career that would bring him a long standing homerun record led him to Milwaukee, Atlanta and Milwaukee again. Aaron would play his first All-Star Game in Milwaukee in 1955. In 1966 the Braves moved to Atlanta. Aaron Broke Babe Ruth’s all time homerun record of 714 in 1974. He ended the previous season with 40 dingers, one shy of tying the record. Aaron stated later that his only fear was that he may not be alive in 1974. In the months that he neared Ruth’s record, he received various death threats. Even journalists that covered his record attempt received death threats. 26 years after Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier, racism was still alive. Many didn’t want Aaron to break Ruth’s record. Eventually Aaron started the 1974 season alive. The Braves started the season on the road in Cincinnati. Because the Braves’ management wanted Aaron to break the record in Atlanta, they wanted to bench him in that three game series. But commissioner Bowie Kuhn decided that Aaron had to play two of the three games at least. In his very first bat of the season, he tied Ruth’s record on his first swing of the season. Eventually on April 8, Aaron broke the record in Atlanta. After breaking the record, Aaron hit eightteen more homeruns as a Brave. Early November the Braves traded him to Milwaukee where he joined the Brewers and the city where he started his career. As a coincidence, in 1975 Aaron played his final All-Star Game at Milwaukee County Stadium, the ballpark where he played his first as well. His final homerun (755th) was belted on July 20,1976. After the 1976 season he would hang up his spikes for good. His homerun record stood for 31 years before it was broken by Barry Bonds in 2007. Bonds’ record is controversial because of an alleged use of PEDs.
Willy Mays started his MLB career with the New York Giants. Before he joined the Giants’ organization he played for the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League. Several MLB teams wanted to sign him but the Giants were the quickest and smartest. They signed him to a $4000.00 signing bonus and sent him to their class B team in Trenton New Jersey. After playing the 1950 season in Trenton, he was promoted to the Giants AAA team in Minneapolis. In a short time span he batted .477 in 35 games and 149 at bats. Mays made his MLB debut on May 25, 1951. It took him 23 at bats before he collected his first basehit. His average improved during the season and despite finishing with one of his lowest batting averages of his career (.276) he won the rookie of the year award in 1951.
In 1954 he made “the catch”, a play that many baseball fans know him best for. In the 1954 World Series vs the Cleveland Indians, he made a miraculous over-the-shoulder catch. Vic Wertz drove a fly ball into the 483 feet outfield of the Polo Grounds. In fact the ball had traveled about 415 feet when Mays caught the ball, but even then it was a remarkable effort.
In a move orchestrated by Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley, Mays and the Giants moved to San Francisco. Giants’ owner Horace Stoneham intended to move to Minneapolis, but O’Malley, who was looking for a new home for his Dodgers, urged the Giants to move to San Francisco. Mainly to safe O’Malley some money of the travelling costs. If the Dodgers would be the only team on the West Coast, the nearest team would be the St. Louis Cardinals. In May 1972 the Giants traded Mays back to New York, where he became a Met. He would play his final game in the 1973 World Series, a loss for the Mets vs the Oakland A’s.
The final hit of his career came in game two of that series. He ended his career with 660 homeruns and a .302 batting average. His 7,095 putouts as an outfielder is a still standing record. After the Polo Grounds was torn down, appartment blocks were built at the location. Since a few years an art work is standing next to them, to commemorate Willie Mays’ catch.
But Aaron and Mays were not the only players that finished their career in the same city where they started it, after moving to another city.
Maybe the most famous player who did this was Babe Ruth. Ruth started his MLB career with the Boston Red Sox. But at the end of the 1919 season, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee decided to sell his star player to raise money for his musical “No no Nanette”; at least that is what the legend says. Frazee has earned his wealth as a Broadway producer. The truth is a bit more complicated and had nothing to do with Frazee’s musical. We all know the accomplishments of Babe Ruth with the Yankees. But when his numbers declined in 1934, Ruth knew that his days as a player were numbered. He started to think about a managerial career and asked Jacob Ruppert, owner of the Yankees, to hire him as the team’s manager. Eventually the Yankees traded Ruth to the Boston Braves. They had problems paying the rent of Braves Field and could use Ruth as a gate attraction. Braves owner Fuchs had promised Ruth that he could take over as Braves’ manager but eventually Ruth realized that he was deceived by Fuchs to make him decide to come to Boston. Ruth would continue to play until June 2nd, when he hung up his spikes as a player. He would hit his last homerun a few days earlier in Pittsburgh on May 25. He went 4 for 4 in that game and belted three homeruns. He ended the season with a .151 average,by far his lowest of his career. His flamboyant lifestyle as a star eventually costed him his career. In the end he didn’t have the stamina to field and to run the bases.
Ruth as a Boston Red Sock and as a Boston Brave
Without a doubt there will be more players that finished their MLB career in the town where they started it, after moving to another city or after being traded, but these three are the most famous for sure.