MLB Hall of Famer Hank Aaron has passed away at age 86.
Aaron was a legend of baseball, and he was a great ambassador of the game for many years.
Nicknamed Hammerin Hank, he holds the major league record with 25 All-Star Game appearances, and of held the home run record with 755 homers for 31 years.
In 1974, Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s record of 714 home runs before retiring two years later.
Barry Bonds surpassed Aaron in 2007, but his use of steroids and performance enhancing drugs will never solidify his record compared to the true home run champion.
Aaron grew up in Alabama and dealt with heavy racism throughout his career, and was a big part of the Civil Rights Movement.
His lifelong inspiration was Jackie Robinson, the Brooklyn Dodger who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947.
“Jackie Robinson had to be bigger than life,” Aaron wrote in Time Magazine.
“He had to be bigger than the Brooklyn teammates who got up a petition to keep him off the ballclub, bigger than the pitchers who threw at him or the base runners who dug their spikes into his shin, bigger than the bench jockeys who hollered for him to carry their bags and shine their shoes, bigger than the so-called fans who mocked him with mops on their heads and wrote him death threats.”
At the beginning of the 1974 MLB season, the Braves wanted to hold Aaron out of the opening three-game series in Cincinnati to allow him to break the record in Atlanta.
However, former commissioner Bowie Kuhn stepped in and ruled that every team should put its best players on the field and suggested that the Braves comply.
Aaron wasted no time in tying the record, slugging his 714th home run in his first at-bat on Opening Day against Cincinnati.
The Washington Post wrote:
“He maintained a stealthy, behind-the-scenes connection to politics and civil rights. Bill Clinton said that he carried Georgia in the 1992 presidential campaign in part because of an Atlanta rally that Aaron helped organize. In 2001, Clinton presented Aaron with the Presidential Citizens Medal for “exemplary service to the nation.”
“Aaron understood that his long march to 755 home runs, leading from Alabama to Wisconsin to Georgia, had a resonance with the civil rights leaders he admired so much. It was about more than gaining respect on the baseball field; it was about earning respect as a man.”
He will forever be remembered throughout the baseball and sports community, and rightfully so.