Many fans consider home run king Barry Bonds to be a real hot dog — or much worse — but the first Hank Aaron baseball card is proof positive that the former title holder was a real Clown.
An Indianapolis Clown, that is.
The Indianapolis Clowns were a barnstorming team in the Negro American League that could trace its origins back to the old Miami Giants. For most of their history, the Clowns were a stunt-driven team, much along the lines of basketball’s Harlem Globetrotters.
By the time the Clowns signed Aaron for $200 a month early in 1952, though, they were playing a more straight-laced game as the Negro Leagues began to wane in the face of integration in the Major Leagues.
After about three months as Indianapolis’ shortstop and leading long-ball hitter, Aaron was shipped to the Boston Braves farm system for $10,000.
Before he left, though, Aaron made enough of an impression on Indy brass and fans to be included in a series of team-issued postcards.
While the Aaron card is clearly labeled with his name and features the front-leaning, almost off-balance batting follow-through that would become part of his Big League signature, debate has raged about whether the player depicted really is Aaron.
At first glance, the player’s face looks quite a bit different than the Hammerin’ Hank we’re all familiar with, but several collectors have done some solid research into the origin and subject of the card. You can read most of the back-and-forth on this thread at Net54 Baseball, but the general consensus now is that this Clown definitely is a youthful Henry Aaron.
Of course, Aaron has graced plenty of iconic baseball cards, including his 1954 Topps rookie, the gorgeous 1955 Topps follow-up, and several 1970s cards issued around the time that he eclipsed Babe Ruth as the Home Run King.
On a personal note, one of my all-time favorite cards is Aaron’s 1959 Bazooka, which I first spied in a 1980s (non-Beckett) price guide. As an inveterate bubble gum connoisseur and budding baseball fan, the vibrant colors and graceful power — not to mention the Bazooka connection — of the Aaron card pulled me into the hobby almost instantly.
But none of those cards hold the title of first Aaron card. That one belongs to the 1952 Indianapolis Clowns postcard series.
And, while the Clowns issue can’t claim to be a rookie card in the strictest sense because it was not widely distributed, it’s a scarce issue that not many collectors would kick out of their shoebox treasure chests.