He is unquestionably their most famous alumnus. Hank Aaron didn’t spend much time with the Indianapolis Clowns, but the Negro Leagues franchise didn’t shy away from advertising the fact that the Milwaukee Braves’ new young star had once been their shortstop. Evidence of that can be found in the current RMY Auctions catalog.
One of the featured items is a publicity photo taken early in Aaron’s big league career that labels him as an “ex-Clowns star” on the front and bears the team’s Florida mailing address on its back. The rare image is believed to have been taken during Braves spring training in 1955 and measures 4 ¾” x 7 ¾”.
A high school standout, the 18-year-old Aaron was signed by Clowns’ scout Bunny Downs on November 20, 1951, agreeing to join the squad for $200 per month. He played in just 26 games, hitting .366 with five homers and nine stolen bases and was on the radar of big league scouts.
He was offered contracts by both the New York Giants and the Boston Braves, but selected the Braves’ offer, which was $50 per month higher. Had the Giants been more aggressive, it’s possible Aaron and Willie Mays could have eventually played in the same outfield. He signed with Braves scout Dewey Griggs on June 14, 1952 and reported to the Eau Claire Bears of the Class C Northern League.
[I]t wasn’t too much of a transition from playing . . .in the Negro League to playing professional baseball,” Aaron told Tavis Smiley of National Public Radio (NPR). “. . . instead of making $400 a month, I was making $600 a month. Instead of getting $2 a day meal money, I was getting $3 a day meal money. So it wasn’t that much of a difference.”
Less than two years after signing, he was in the big leagues with the Braves, who moved to Milwaukee in 1953.
The photo is one of several hundred being offered in RMY Auctions’ December Collectors Auction, which runs through December 26.