The Braves bought him for $10,000 on a 30-day look and sent him to Eau Claire in the Class C Northern League to play shortstop. By the time he had been there two days, Manager Bill Adair had seen far too much to send him back. After Henry had been there a week, he was named to the league all-star team. He finished the season hitting .336 and was named rookie of the year.
At Jacksonville the next year, Aaron led the Class A Sally League in everything but peanut sales: batting (.362), runs batted in (125), hits, runs, doubles and most hours slept for day, week and season.
"The most relaxed kid I ever saw," says Ben Geraghty, who now manages the Braves Triple-A farm club at Wichita but who was at Jacksonville that year. "From the time he got on the bus until we got to the next town, Hank was asleep. Nothing ever bothered him."
Henry also led the league in most errors for a second baseman, and it was then that the Braves decided he would become an outfielder. But no one ever attempted to alter his batting style. Paul Waner, the famed Milwaukee hitting coach, soon sent word up through the organization that everyone was to keep hands off when Aaron walked to the plate. "He's got a perfect swing now," warned Waner. "Don't anyone try to change him. Just let him alone."
"The most natural hitter I ever saw," says Geraghty. "He would go out to hit—you couldn't keep him out of the batting cage—and he would pick up the first bat he came to. Didn't seem to make any difference.
"He hit a home run off Gene Conley one day when we were playing Toledo in an exhibition game. 'What bat did you use, Henry?' the next hitter asked him. 'The Green-berg model,' Henry said. 'You couldn't,' the other fellow told him. 'I've got the Greenberg model.' 'Well,' Henry said, 'anyway, I was usin' a bat. It must have been the right one.'
"He hasn't really changed, I guess. This year in spring training, after he won the batting championship, I asked him what kind of bat he was using now. Figured he'd say 'a Babe Ruth handle with a Hornsby barrel' or something like that. He said 'I've got me two bats now. A long one and a short one. I use the long one when they're pitchin' me outside and the short one when they're pitchin' me inside.'
"And I'll never forget when we changed our signs in the middle of the season. Henry came up and I gave him the take sign. He hit a home run. 'Why didn't you take that pitch like I signaled, Henry?' I asked him. 'I thought that was the hit sign,' he said. I told him that was the old hit sign. 'Heck, Ben,' he said. 'I just learned it the other day.'
"The rest of the year I didn't give him any signs at all. He just went up there and hit away. It worked out all right. I guess if you had enough hitters like Henry, you wouldn't need any signs anyway."
Geraghty, like a lot of other people who have come in contact with Aaron, still isn't sure whether his leg was being pulled or not. It is fairly easy to find oneself completely beguiled by the soporific, almost indifferent exterior which cloaks Henry's rather highly developed sense of humor. He had everyone at Jacksonville convinced that he didn't know the names of the opposing players, of the opposing team, of the town he was in or, frequently, of even his own teammates. He once told a writer he had developed his wrists by delivering ice when he was a kid; the only job he really ever had in those days was helping a man care for people's lawns. Breaking out of a slump, he told teammates that in desperation he had called Stan Musial for advice and that Stan told him to "keep swinging, boy, just keep swinging." Later, Musial had to laugh. "The only time I ever saw Henry up until then," he said, "all I said was 'hello.' " He also told an interviewer his favorite pastime was hunting. Another, who knew him better and knew that Henry liked to listen to modern music and go to the movies but was unaware he had ever shot anything bigger than a game of pool, saw the story. "I didn't know you hunted, Henry," he said. "I don't," said Aaron. "It's too dangerous."