Remembering Home Run King Hank Aaron
Updated: Jan 25, 2021
The baseball world was shaken Friday when the news was announced that Hank Aaron died. CBS46 of Atlanta was the first to report that the Hall of Fame baseball legend had passed at the age of 86. From there, the tributes and memories came pouring in from around the sports world.
Aaron, who spent most of his career with the Milwaukee-turned-Atlanta Braves, is perhaps best known as the home run king who broke Babe Ruth's record. He hit number 715 in a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 8, 1974. Aaron, who rightfully earned the nickname Hammerin' Hank, finished his 23-year career with a World Series title, three Gold Glove awards and 755 home runs.
Hammerin' Hank's legacy doesn't end on the stat sheet. He started his career in the Negro Leagues, signing with the Indianapolis Clowns at the age of 18. He endured racism throughout his time in the MLB. He received letters with death threats from those who did not want a Black man to take the crown from baseball demigod Babe Ruth. He felt frustration while trying to express himself to the media who made him appear bitter on his ascent in the baseball world.
"Whenever I say something, the writers get it wrong," he told Howard Bryant, who gained Aaron's trust to write the biography "The Last Hero." "Then they try to correct it, and then I have to correct the correction, and finally I just decided it wasn't worth it. Don't say anything. Keep to myself. If you don't say anything, they can't get it wrong."
Really, Aaron — who was born Henry Aaron in 1934 in Mobile, Alabama — was a gentle, loving family man. He inspired a generation of upcoming Black baseball players and was a dear friend to former MLB commissioner Bud Selig, who was owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and brought Aaron to his team for the final few years of his career.
"He is as fine a man as I’ve ever known, and, as one of baseball’s first African American players, he has endured hatred few of us have known," Selig wrote in his 2019 memoir "For the Love of the Game." "He once shared with me a box of letters that was full of death threats sent to him as he was getting closer and closer to Ruth’s record. The letters were horrible, as was the treatment that Henry received early in his career. But his belief in himself, his faith, and his country was unshakable."
Aaron's record stood for three decades before Barry Bonds took the crown in 2007. Several question Bonds' accomplishment and view it as tainted because of his alleged steroid use. Aaron, at the suggestion of Selig, still congratulated the slugger when he hit his record-breaking home run. Bonds was among the many who paid tribute to Aaron on social media upon hearing of his death.
"I was lucky enough to spend time with Hank on several occasions during my career and have always had the deepest respect and admiration for all that he did both on and off the field. He is an icon, a legend and a true hero to so many, who will forever be missed."
Beyond baseball, Aaron had a huge cultural impact. He was even was the inspiration behind MC Hammer's stage name. The trendsetting rapper, born Stanley Burrell, was a ball boy for his hometown Oakland Athletics as a kid. Former Brewers second baseman Pedro Garcia thought a young Burrell looked exactly like Hammerin' Hank and bestowed upon him the "Hammer" nickname. MC Hammer went on to win three Grammys, including two for "U Can't Touch This."