Celebrating Black History

Honoring Hank Aaron’s Negro Leagues legacy in Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — In 1952, a train ride northbound from Alabama changed baseball forever. 

A salary of $200 a month brought Hank Aaron, the man who eventually broke Babe Ruth’s legendary home run record, to the Negro League’s Indianapolis Clowns.

“Our president, Bob Kendrick, was touring him around. He told Bob, ‘You know I may have had a ham sandwich, a change of clothes and a few dollars in my pocket that day, going to chase that dream to play baseball,'” said Ray Doswell of the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City. 

Today, Doswell’s razor-sharp storytelling depicts Aaron’s instant stardom with the Clowns, wowing crowds across the team’s barnstorming tours.  

“He was a cross-handed infielder with strong wrists, strong arms and they figured out a way to get him to bat in a more orthodox fashion,” Doswell said. “It was clear that he was a young hitting star that attracted attention and people to what was happening with the team.”

After just three months in Indianapolis, the Braves acquired Aaron later in 1952 for $10,000. His major league debut came after arriving in Milwaukee in 1954, quickly holding his own on the field. 

On the diamond, one fierce competitor watched the unfair and discriminatory battles Aaron faced away from the diamond.    

“I’m sure he had trouble staying in hotels at that time,” said Carl Erskine, a native of Anderson, Indiana, and a teammate of Jackie Robinson. “He faced the same indignities as Jackie. Henry (Aaron) was quiet, he wasn’t boisterous, he never showed a lot of anger at the plate at all.”

Erskine can still visualize seeing Aaron step in the batter’s box for their first battle on June 16, 1954, at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. 

“He crowded upright a little bit, I could see that right off. On the bench, Ed Robuck once said to when Aaron was hitting, ‘He hits like he’s taking a shower.’ He was so relaxed at the plate. He had those quick hands.”

This season across the big leagues, we remember Hank Aaron and his courageous path that passed through our town.

“It is indescribable — someone of his status in this sport and in this game,” said Cheyne Reiter, director of communications for the Indianapolis Indians. “We are the oldest franchise here in town from a sports standpoint. To think that he played for the Clowns and then went on to the career he had is pretty incredible.”

“Fortunately, a league existed where it probably shouldn’t have if the world was fair,” Doswell added. “But it was there, thank goodness for it, and as a result we get great athletes and great men like Henry Aaron.”