And the first shall be first

When each of us was in school, we all learned pretty quickly where we fell in the alphabetical listing of students in the class. Teachers had us listed that way in their grade books, and whenever the roll call was made, we knew if we would be called near the front, in the middle, or at the very end. In a room fill of thirty kids, with a last name starting with H, I would typically be the seventh or eight name called. Not at the very front of the list, but I never had too wait too long, either.

Henry Aaron, by virtue of simply having the name he did, entered the record books on the first day he played in the majors in 1954. The previous head of the alphabetical line had belonged to Edward “Batty” Abbaticchio, who played from 1897-1910.  For over forty years, a player from the deadball era had been the first name anyone came to when they ran down the list of historical big leaguers.

We all know now that “Hammerin’ Hank” went on to play for more than two decades, and in the process became the all time leader in games played, home runs, RBIs, extra base hits, and many other important statistics. His performance on the field gradually elevated him to the place where his name had already put him, which was at the head of the line. While I had not considered it at the time he was playing, I like the fact that baseball’s first player alphabetically coincided with its statistical leader in many important statistics.

Just as some of Aaron’s on-field accomplishments were eventually surpassed (Carl Yastrzemski and Pete Rose passed him in Games Played, and Barry Bonds passed him in Intentional Base on Balls and some other statistical measure), his fifty-year perch at the head of the alphabetical list was ended by the debut of David Aardsma in 2004.

Aardsma is still playing now, and since he’s a pitcher, he won’t break any of Aaron’s offensive records. But one day, someone may even come in front of Aardsma and push Aaron down to #3 on the alphabetical list. And it’s a tribute to Aaron’s greatness on the field that some of his offensive records might still be standing, even when this happens. May some us live to see that happen one day.

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