Any resemblance to his older brother is hidden behind a camouflage of balding pate, sagging paunch and drooping mustache. He can still play his brother's game well enough, but after 10 seasons at places such as Eau Claire and Cedar Rapids he is no longer young enough to hope for another chance to join him at the top.
That 34-year-old Tommie Aaron never fulfilled the promise he showed year after year in the minors may be due in part to the unhappy consequence of having lived his adult life in fraternal shadow, possessing the name and the inclination, but not the ability. "I am 'Henry-Aaron's-brother-Tommie Aaron,' " he says, recalling countless introductions, "and it took a while to get used to."
Tommie is finally receiving recognition for being something more than the lesser half of the most prolific home-run-hitting brother combination ever (Henry 701, Tommie 13). In Savannah, Ga., which once abandoned minor league baseball rather than seat whites with blacks at Grayson Stadium, Aaron has become perhaps the most highly regarded black manager in baseball. Because of that, there may soon come a day when he will no longer be confused with a home-run hitter or a Masters champ. He has begun his march where Sherman's ended.
First Baseman Aaron's move up from player-coach to player-manager of the Double A Southern League team began late one rainy June afternoon this season when Savannah General Manager Miles Wolff learned that Field Manager Clint Courtney was being transferred to fill an unexpected vacancy with the Braves' Triple A franchise in Richmond. The parent club had another man in mind for the Savannah job, but word of the opening provoked a spontaneous civic campaign for Aaron. Wolff, Courtney, local Sports Editor Marcus Holland and one member of the team's board of directors, Julius S. Fine, all made calls to Atlanta in support of Tommie, who sat silently while others lobbied in his behalf. He was among the crowd in Wolff's little office only because he had come to the park for his paycheck. After deliberations in Atlanta, Aaron was named manager of the Savannah Braves about 6 p.m. that same day, thus surpassing in classification at least two other blacks then managing Class A teams.
"They wanted me to ask for the job myself, but that didn't seem right," says Tommie. "Of course I wanted it. I had been thinking about a managing career for the last several years."
It is Tommie's easy rapport with players and knowledge of baseball that made him the people's choice for the Savannah job. The team responded by winning a doubleheader from Jacksonville the first day under Aaron and has remained a contender for its division title.
Two questions inevitably arose when Aaron was named: Was he promoted because of his brother? Would he have difficulty handling a predominantly white team in a Southern town? In fact, Henry was not notified of the promotion until it had already been made, and the wide-ranging community and team acceptance quashed the possibility of racial discord.
"All of Tommie's actions have seemed to make one point: 'I am the manager,' not 'I am the black manager,' " says Relief Pitcher Ken Alfred. "One of the few guys he got on was a black player and it happened right in the dugout with the rest of the team there."
Aaron's personal experience has taught him the unfairness of failing to judge people individually. A typical lesson occurred not long ago during a game at Knoxville. "You know why he's manager of that team?" asked a beer-drinking customer. "The big dummy is Henry Aaron's brother, that's why." No sooner had Tommie quieted that critic with a home run than another fan screeched, "Only 700 more, Aaron, and you'll catch your brother."
"You can't compare Henry and me," says Tommie on what has become a tiresome subject. "He's gonna do his thing and I'm gonna do mine. I found out a long time ago I'm not as good a player as he is, but if I had let it bother me I wouldn't have stayed around this long. When I first came up with Milwaukee in 1962 everybody expected me to hit 20 to 25 home runs with 100 RBIs. But no two men are alike and nobody understands that more than me."