I unexpectedly added this 1974 Topps Deckle Edge card of Hank Aaron to my collection last week.
Before getting into my main story I’ll answer a couple quick questions about the card itself.
What is it?
Many collectors are familiar with a Topps Deckle Edge issue from five years earlier, either through the original 1969 set or through more recent Topps Archives reboots.
The 1974 cards, however, are ones that many collectors have never seen, original or otherwise. They were part of a “test issue” limited to the New England area and considerably more scarce than their 1969 predecessors. For example, PSA has graded only 46 Hank Aaron cards from the 1974 set, and even this number is probably inflated by all the “crack and resub” collectors out there.
Where are the deckles?
As the Yaz and Ichiro pics show, a key feature–sorry, THE key feature–of the Deckle Edge cards is…well…deckled edges. Meanwhile, the Aaron pic I showed appears to be perfectly straight. This is the case with the even more scarce proof cards from the set. PSA populations for these proofs range between 1 and 4 per card, and no numerical grades have been issued. As such, were I ever forced to sell my “PSA Authentic” Aaron, I could legitimately do one of those eBay listings that says, “NONE GRADED HIGHER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” right down to the dozens of exclamation marks.
Unlike the 1969 Deckle Edge cards, which have barely more than the player’s name on the back, these 1974 cards really go the extra mile.
From the information on the back we see Aaron was at Candlestick on September 1 to play the Giants. A bit of quick research also tells us Aaron had 706 career home runs at the time, just eight fewer than the Babe. Having averaged a home run every three games thus far (33 HR in the 100 games he’d played), Aaron was on pace to break the record by season’s end, but only on one condition: he play in every one of Atlanta’s 26 remaining games.
The pursuit of Ruth had been excruciating for the Hammer: death threats, sleepless nights, and constant media attention were so great that Aaron simply wanted to be done. He was less after a crown on his head than a weight off his shoulders. When he finally did break the record, the feeling was not elation but relief.
Here is the box score from that night’s game.
Plenty of familiar names in the line up but no Hammer, not even when the Braves, down by a single run in the ninth, looked to pinch-hit for Niekro. Five more times in that final month the box score would be similar: no Hammer.
Six days in September
In taking the six days off, the die was cast. The record would wait until 1974. With his team 18 games behind the first place Dodgers, I sometimes wonder why Aaron didn’t just push through and play these games. I have to imagine his fans and teammates would have forgiven a little less hustle in the field and on the bases if it meant another 25-30 trips to the plate.
I don’t know the actual circumstances and decision making behind these six missed games, just that they followed a pattern of off days throughout the season. I can only imagine that Aaron didn’t see himself as able to give 100%.
Were you to scan the Braves roster you might quickly conclude that 80% from Hank Aaron would still be better than 110% from anyone on the Atlanta bench, particularly knowing the best manager Eddie Mathews could put out there in his place would be these two players.
So yeah, these numbers might surprise you.
- .455 batting average
- .520 on-base percentage
- .727 slugging percentage
- 1.247 OPS
The photograph on the Deckle Edge card shows a man who had a choice. What he would do that day and in all for six fateful days in September would determine whether he would enter a much needed offseason with the crown or let the strain and anguish of the chase drag on him another six months.
That would be an easy choice for most of us, and perhaps it was an easy one for the Hammer as well. Carrying his own burdens, that he could live with. Placing burden on his teammates, that just wasn’t in his DNA.
Though he finished the season with “only” 713 home runs, Topps provided Aaron with an early cardboard coronation. His was a royalty that needed no crown. All hail the Home Run King!