Over the course of a 23-season career filled with milestones that other ballplayers only dream about, Henry Aaron retired as a first-ballot Hall of Famer and, most famously, as the all-time major-league home run king. Today, for most fans, he’s still the all-time home run king — Barry Bonds’ thoroughly tainted 762 round-trippers notwithstanding. So many other numbers that Aaron put up over the course of his career, meanwhile, cement his reputation as one of the very greatest ballplayers who ever lived.
[Check out the cool, old-school multiple exposure shot of Aaron’s hair-raising 715th, hit off of Al Downing in Atlanta on April 8, 1974, at the bottom of this post — a joint effort by LIFE photographers Ralph Morse and Henry Groskinsky.]
To cite just a few of his eye-popping stats: Aaron was a 25-time All Star (from 1959-1962, he played in both of the All-Star games held each summer back then) and a .305 lifetime hitter. He hit 755 home runs, of course; had more than 3,700 hits, including a major-league record 1,477 for extra bases; drove in 2,297 runs (another record); won a World Series ring; won a couple of batting titles; and, perhaps most incredibly, he still holds the major-league record of 17 consecutive seasons with 150 or more hits.
Take a moment to digest that: 17 years in a row with 150 or more hits. Anyone who knows anything about baseball knows that it’s hard to get 150 hits in one season. To hit 150 or more, year after year for almost two decades, while routinely launching 30 or more home runs every year, speaks to a talent, a competitive drive and a consistency that borders on the superhuman.
Henry Aaron spoke with LIFE.com about some of the players — teammates as well as rivals — who made his playing days so satisfying, and so much fun, for so many years. Now 80 years old (he was born Feb. 5, 1934, in Mobile, Ala.), he is both gracious and insightful in his praise of his old friends and foes — a man of quiet, unmistakable dignity.
Thanks for the memories, Mr. Aaron. Thanks for everything.
— Ben Cosgrove is the Editor of LIFE.com