In a time where America stands so deeply divided, it’s good to take a moment to remember someone so many Americans can all agree was an absolute legend in his field.
Few names in sport — whether modern or past — have the kind of gravitas and rarified air as the name Hank Aaron. And it’s not just because of his play on the field, either.
Seven hundred fifty-five.
That’s the number of home runs he had.
Twenty-three, the number of seasons.
Fourty-Four, the number he wore on his back for every year but his rookie season.
Hank Aaron claimed Babe Ruth’s record and held onto it until Barry Bonds came along (although Hank did it without any help from a pharmacy). And he did more than that… he lived the American Dream, without giving up his dignity and decency in the process.
Aaron was well known as one of the true gentleman of the sport, respected by peers and fans for the way he carried himself while breaking baseball’s most-revered record.
…Aaron, who was born in Alabama, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982. His 2,297 RBIs are still the most in the history of the sport.
“Hank Aaron’s incredible talent on the baseball field was only matched by his dignity and character, which shone brightly, not only here in Cooperstown, but with every step he took,” said Baseball Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark.
“His courage while pursuing the game’s all-time home run record served as an example for millions of people inside and outside of the sports world, who were also aspiring to achieve their greatest dreams. His generosity of spirit and legendary accomplishments will live in Cooperstown forever. On behalf of the Board of Directors and the entire staff of the Hall of Fame, we send our deepest sympathies to his wife, Billye, and his entire family.” –NYPost
The photo of his rounding third for that history-making home run is what dreams were made of.
The achievement wasn’t easy for him, especially with racial tensions being what they during the years he played ball, but his greatness was undeniable, even among many of his critics.
“What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world,” Scully said. “A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking the record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron …”
Scully went on to describe Aaron’s visible sense of relief after the tremendous strain he endured chasing Ruth’s hallowed record.
The racial overtones were impossible to miss. A legendary white player had held the record for more than 50 years, and then just a decade after landmark Civil Rights legislation became law, Aaron was about to pass him.
…Next to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in 1947, Aaron’s feat might be the most significant contribution baseball has made to the Civil Rights movement.
Two bodyguards even stood ready with a revolver, just in case the greeting he got as he came toward home plate was unfriendly, but thankfully, it was not.
Hank went on to live a long and quiet life. He was eighty-six when he passed away, and had been the frequent guest of Presidents and dignitaries for a long time to come.
Born under the weight, pressures and biases of a segregated America, he began his life in a big family and a poor neighborhood. Through his own hard work and dedication, he grew into an accomplished man invited to dine with Presidents and dignitaries.
Wasn’t the American Dream amazing?
And it still is.
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