RIP Hank Aaron: Looking back at the baseball legend’s amazing career
There are many names the adorn the Baseball Hall of Fame. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Jackie Robinson are some of the first names to come to mind. These three names, in particular, share unique connections to longtime ballplayer Hank Aaron. Aaron, who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, died Jan. 22nd, at the age of 86, according to the Atlanta Braves. The team hasn’t released the cause of death at this time.
Born Henry Louis Aaron in 1934, Aaron is the third baseball player to die in 2021. The first two being famed Los Angeles Dodgers’ coach Tommy Lasorda and pitcher Don Sutton. Aaron played against Lasorda and Sutton’s Dodgers. Sutton pitched the game following Aaron’s record breaking home run in 1974.
Hank Aaron started his career in the Negro American League when baseball was still segregated. The Indianapolis Clowns signed him to a $200 a month contract in 1951 – when adjusted for inflation roughly $2,000 a month. He wouldn’t stay in the Negro League for long as he received offers from the San Francisco Giants and the Braves when they were still in Boston.
“I had the Giants’ contract in my hand. But the Braves offered fifty dollars a month more. That’s the only thing that kept Willie Mays and me from being teammates – fifty dollars,” Aaron told Donald Honi for his book Batting Around. Hank Aaron spent two years in the Braves organization before being called up to the majors in 1954. He enjoyed a twenty-three-year long career with twenty-one seasons with the Braves.
Hank Aarons won one World Series title in 1957, a twenty-five-time All-Star, a three-time Gold Glove winner, and an MVP. He also ended his playing career with a .305 batting average, 755 home runs, and 143.1 wins about replacement. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America elected Aaron to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982 in his first year of eligibility, receiving 97.8% of the votes. At the time, Ty Cobb was the only other player to receive a higher percentage of the vote.
Aaron was a fixture of baseball known for his home run power. He was the first player to surpass Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1974. Hank Aaron is one of two players ever to do so, second only to Barry Bonds. He also managed to hit forty-four home runs in four different seasons, and his record breaking home run came off a pitcher wearing the number forty-four. Forty-four was considered Hank Aaron’s lucky number.
Aaron’s record of 755 home runs was only broken by one player: Barry Bonds. However, most considered Bond’s achievement shrouded in controversy because it’s speculated he used performance-enhancing drugs en route of the record.
He holds a lot more records than the home run one. According to ESPN, Aaron is number one in RBIs (2,297), total bases (6,856), and extra-base hits (1,477). He’s also third all-time in hits (3,771), games played (3,298), and fourth in runs scored (2,174).
Fight against racism
As an African American player, Aaron still faced discrimination once joining the major league. While playing for the Clowns, Aaron vividly remembered the chefs at a diner in Washington, D.C, smashing their plates after they finished eating – a story shared in Total Baseball: The ultimate baseball encyclopedia in 2004.
“What a horrible sound. Even as a kid, the irony of it hit me: here we were in the capital in the land of freedom and equality, and they had to destroy the plates that had touched the forks that had been in the mouths of Black men. If dogs had eaten off those plates, they’d have washed them,” Aaron recounted in the book.
After breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1974, Aaron received death threats against him and his family. “My kids had to live like they were in prison because of kidnap threats, and I had to live like a pig in a slaughter camp. I had to duck. I had to go out the back door of the ballparks. I had to have a police escort with me all the time,” he told The New York Times around the 20th anniversary of the home run.
Hank Aaron made contributions to the fight for racial equality. He made donations to the NAACP and co-founded the Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation. Throughout his career, he was a model for dealing with threats. Aaron was known for his quiet resolve and strong demeanor.
Tributes and Condolences
Many from around the world have expressed their condolences to Aaron’s family and the Braves organization. The best include:
Hank Aaron was one of the best baseball players we’ve ever seen and one of the strongest people I’ve ever met. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to the Aaron family and everyone who was inspired by this unassuming man and his towering example. pic.twitter.com/2RZdc82Y18
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) January 22, 2021
Saddened to hear about Hank Aaron. He meant so much more to baseball and the country than just being one of the game's top home run hitters. He truly was a very special man.
— Vin Scully (@TheVinScully) January 22, 2021
Without Hank Aaron there wouldn't be people like me. pic.twitter.com/nlIhMax2tV
— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) January 22, 2021
Hank Aaron was a champion of baseball and civil rights.
He held the home run record for 30+ years. He was also a friend, and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
He faced unspeakable racism, and advocated for equality until the end of his life.
I will miss him terribly.
— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) January 22, 2021
As a proud Georgian & American, I celebrate the life and mourn the passing of Hank Aaron – a sports icon who broke records on the field, while also breaking barriers in the field of civil rights and human relations.
— Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock (@ReverendWarnock) January 22, 2021