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Hank Aaron displayed his talent as a teenager for the Indianapolis Clowns

The former home run leader died Friday at age 86
Posted at 3:34 PM, Jan 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-22 16:20:34-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Before 18-year-old Hank Aaron left to join the Boston Braves organization and become one of the greatest Major League Baseball players of all time, he had one last game to play in Indianapolis.

Aaron, who died Friday at age 86, played three months in 1952 for the Indianapolis Clowns, a member of the Negro American League. The Clowns made their home in Indianapolis exclusively from 1946-50, and later split time between Indianapolis and Cincinnati, according to "The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues."

When the Clowns returned to Indianapolis for their game against the Chicago American Giants on June 11, 1952, they featured a unique talent at shortstop.

"Indianapolis fans will be interested in the Clowns' shortstop, Henry 'Hank' Aaron who has been signed by the Boston Braves and is due to report right after Tuesday night's contest," the Indianapolis Recorder reported on June 7. "Aaron, who reminds sports writers of Ted Williams, the Red Sox ace now in the air corps, at the bat, tops the Negro American League batters with .483."

Aaron's statistics from his final game with the Clowns are not available, but he watched his team lose 14-6 after the American Giants scored nine runs in the eighth inning of the game played at Victory Field, later known as Bush Stadium, on West 16th Street.

Aaron, Henry-1952-crop.jpg
Hank Aaron, who played for the Indianapolis Clowns in 1952 before beginning his major league career, died Friday, Jan. 22, 2021.

Aaron, a Mobile, Alabama native, signed with the Clowns in April 1952 for $200 a month after the team's business manager, Bunny Downs, saw him play for the Mobile Black Bears the year before in an exhibition game against the Clowns, according to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

The Braves and New York Giants both scouted Aaron while he played for the Clowns. With the Giants unimpressed by the skinny teenager who batted cross-handed, the Braves bought his contract from the Clowns for $10,000.

By 1954, Aaron would make his major league debut for the Milwaukee Braves. Within five years of his time with the Clowns, he would win the 1957 National League Most Valuable Player Award.

His 23-year career in Milwaukee and Atlanta was one of the most prolific the game has ever seen.

While enduring racism, death threats and hate mail, he surpassed Babe Ruth and retired as the sport's all-time home run leader with 755, a record that stood until 2007 when Barry Bonds ended his career with 762.

Aaron still has more RBIs (2,297), extra-base hits (1,477) and total bases (6,856) than anyone in baseball history. He ranks second in at-bats (12,354), third in games played (3,298) and hits (3,771), fourth in runs scored (tied with Ruth at 2,174) and 13th in doubles (624). He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982.

“I just tried to play the game the way it was supposed to be played,” Aaron said, summing it up better than anyone.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.