Description1954 Hank Aaron Game Worn Milwaukee Braves Rookie Jersey. When Hank Aaron took his first of 715 steps to pass Babe Ruth's fabled career home run record with an April 23, 1954 blast at St. Louis' Sportsman's Park, the landmark 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson Supreme Court ruling institutionalizing racial segregation was still the law of the land. Though the historic Brown vs. Board of Education would overturn the decision just four weeks later, the former star of the Negro American League's Indianapolis Clowns would find that neither the Court nor Jackie Robinson could pave a smooth road toward his eventual baseball immortality. Aaron had been the top producer for the Braves' Jacksonville affiliate in the segregated Deep South in 1953, where he "led the league in everything but hotel accommodations" as one journalist quipped, but his legacy would remain one of brilliance in the face of adversity throughout his Major League career as well.
Intriguingly, Aaron's Big League debut in 1954 had come at the expense of another home run hero, former Giants star Bobby Thomson who broke an ankle sliding into second during that year's spring training schedule. The twenty-year old Aaron would win the competition to succeed the 1951 pennant-winner in left field and would appear in 122 games in 1954, batting .280 and clubbing thirteen home runs. It was the only season of his service to the Braves franchise his long ball output would dip below twenty. On September 5, 1954, Aaron ironically suffered the same injury as his predecessor, a broken ankle putting an end to his rookie campaign.
Also coming to an end with this snapped bone was the residence of a single digit upon Aaron's jersey verso, as the man opposing pitchers had already taken to calling "Bad Henry" would reappear in 1955 with the famous number "44" he would ultimately retire in both Milwaukee and Atlanta. It would prove to be a magical numeral for the budding slugger, who would post forty-four home runs four times in the seasons to follow, and would smack his Babe-busting 715th against Dodgers pitcher Al Downing, who likewise sported double fours on his uniform top.
We find these digits on the presented road grey jersey, a seeming negation of its rookie status. But first impressions can be deceiving. A close examination of the jersey verso (and the accompanying MEARS authentication paperwork) reveals the stitching path of the original number "5," in perfect correspondence with the embroidered "Aaron 54" swatch framed between the "Wilson 40" and washing instructions labels at lower left exterior tail. Make no mistake though-the replacement digits on front and verso are period and team instituted, likely for the jersey's secondary use either during 1955 spring training, that year's regular season, or both. Strong wear is apparent in the modest chenille fraying of the classic tomahawk iconography on the chest beneath the felt "Braves" script, and a couple insignificant punctures on verso. The beautiful Indian head logo patch on the left sleeve survives perfectly and the original zipper front functions as new. A vintage black sharpie salutation at lower abdomen, "Best Wishes, Hank Aaron," rates 9/10.
Just short of two decades after "Hammerin' Hank" Aaron was issued the presented jersey, quite possibly worn that April 1954 day in St. Louis when he clubbed his first career home run, he spent a long, dangerous winter at the 713 mark, just a single swing short of Babe Ruth's fabled record. Death threats arrived with each day's mail, warning of bloodshed should Aaron's quest continue, and the editor of the The Atlanta Journal quietly commissioned an obituary be written in preparation for a tragic eventuality. Thankfully history would allow the last active former Negro League player in the Majors his date with destiny and to lay claim to a record many believe is still rightfully his to this day.
Heritage is honored and humbled to present to the collecting community one of the most significant post-war jerseys, from both an athletic and sociological standpoint, available in the hobby today. LOA from MEARS (A-9). LOA from Heritage Auctions. Full LOA from PSA/DNA (autograph). Full LOA from James Spence Authentication (autograph).
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