fair.png
Saturday September 18th, 2021 9:25AM

Hank Aaron, baseball's one-time home run king, dies at 86

By The Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — His name is all over the baseball record book and, indeed, Hank Aaron could do it all.

Sure, he's remembered mostly for dethroning the Babe to become baseball's home run king on the way to 755, but don't forget about the .300 average, or the graceful way he fielded his position, or the deceiving speed he showed on the basepaths.

Yet, when talking about the true measure of the man, there was far more to “Hammerin’ Hank” than his brilliance between the lines.

Exuding grace and dignity, Aaron spoke bluntly but never bitterly on the many hardships thrown his way — from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the ugly, racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America's most hallowed records.

He wasn't hesitant about speaking out on the issues of the day, whether it was bemoaning the lack of Blacks in management positions, or lobbying against putting Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame, or calling on those involved in the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal to be tossed from the game for good.

“He never missed an opportunity to lead,” former President Barack Obama said, describing Aaron as an “unassuming man” who set a “towering example.”

Right up to his final days, the Hammer was making a difference.

Just 2 1/2 weeks before his death Friday at age 86, Aaron joined civil rights icons to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. He wanted to spread the word to the Black community that the shots were safe in the midst of a devastating pandemic.

“I feel quite proud of myself for doing something like this,” Aaron said. “It’s just a small thing that can help zillions of people in this country.”

The Atlanta Braves, Aaron's longtime team, said he died in his sleep. No cause was given.

The Hammer set a wide array of career hitting records during a 23-year career spent mostly with the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves, including RBIs, extra-base hits and total bases.

But the Hall of Famer will be remembered for one swing above all others, the one that made him baseball’s home-run king on April 8, 1974.

It was a title he would hold for more than 33 years, a period in which Aaron slowly but surely claimed his rightful place as one of America’s most iconic sporting figures, a true national treasure worthy of mention in the same breath with Ruth or Ali or Jordan.

“With courage and dignity, he eclipsed the most hallowed record in sports while absorbing vengeance that would have broken most people,” President Joe Biden said. “But he was unbreakable.”

Former President Jimmy Carter, described Aaron as “a personal hero.”

“A breaker of records and racial barriers, his remarkable legacy will continue to inspire countless athletes and admirers for generations to come," said Carter, who often attended Braves games with his wife, Rosalynn.

George W. Bush, a one-time owner of the Texas Rangers, presented Aaron in 2002 with the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the nation's highest civilian honor.

“The former Home Run King wasn’t handed his throne,“ Bush said in a statement Friday. “He grew up poor and faced racism as he worked to become one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Hank never let the hatred he faced consume him."

Aaron’s death follows that of seven other baseball Hall of Famers in 2020 and two more — Tommy Lasorda and Don Sutton — already this year.

“He was a very humble and quiet man and just simply a good guy," said 89-year-old Willie Mays, who finished with 660 homers. "I have so many fond memories of Hank and will miss him very much.”

Before a sellout crowd at Atlanta Stadium and a national television audience, Aaron broke Ruth’s home run record with No. 715 off Al Downing of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Aaron's career total was surpassed by Barry Bonds in 2007 — though many continued to call the Hammer the true home run king because of allegations that Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs.

Bonds finished his career with 762. Aaron never begrudged someone — not even a tarnished star — eclipsing his mark.

His common refrain: More than three decades as the king was long enough. It was time for someone else to hold the crown.

Besides, no one could take away his legacy.

“I just tried to play the game the way it was supposed to be played,” Aaron said, summing it up better than anyone.

Bonds praised Aaron “for being a trailblazer through adversity and setting an example for all of us African American ballplayers who came after you.”

Aaron’s journey to Babe Ruth's mark was hardly pleasant. He was the target of extensive hate mail as he closed in on Ruth's cherished record of 714.

“If I was white, all America would be proud of me,” Aaron said almost a year before he passed Ruth. “But I am Black.”

Aaron was shadowed constantly by bodyguards and forced to distance himself from teammates. He kept all those hateful letters, a bitter reminder of the abuse he endured and never forgot.

“It’s very offensive,” he once said. “They call me ‘nigger’ and every other bad word you can come up with. You can’t ignore them. They are here. But this is just the way things are for Black people in America. It’s something you battle all of your life.”

After retiring in 1976, Aaron became a revered, almost mythical figure, even though he never pursued the spotlight. He was thrilled when the U.S. elected Obama as its first African American president in 2008. Former President Bill Clinton credited Aaron with helping carve a path of racial tolerance that made Obama’s victory possible.

“You've given us far more than we'll ever give you,” Clinton said at Aaron's 75th birthday celebration.

Aaron spent 21 of his 23 seasons with the Braves, first in Milwaukee, then in Atlanta after the franchise moved to the Deep South in 1966. He finished his career back in Milwaukee, traded to the Brewers after the 1974 season when he refused to take a front-office job that would have required a big pay cut.

While knocking the ball over the fence became his signature accomplishment, the Hammer was hardly a one-dimensional star. In fact, he never hit more than 47 homers in a season (though he did have eight years with at least 40 dingers).

Aaron was a true five-tool star.

He claimed two National League batting titles. He finished with a career average of .305.

Aaron also was a gifted outfielder with a powerful arm, something often overlooked because of a smooth, effortless stride that his critics —with undoubtedly racist overtones — mistook for nonchalance. He was a three-time Gold Glove winner.

Then there was his work on the basepaths. Aaron posted seven seasons with more than 20 stolen bases, including a career-best of 31 in 1963.

Six feet tall and listed at 180 pounds during the prime of his career, Aaron was hardly an imposing player physically. But he was blessed with powerful wrists that made him one of the game’s most feared hitters.

Aaron hit 733 homers with the Braves, the last in his final plate appearance with the team, a drive down the left field line off Cincinnati’s Rawley Eastwick on Oct. 2, 1974. Exactly one month later, he was dealt to the Brewers for outfielder Dave May and minor league pitcher Roger Alexander.

The Braves made it clear they no longer wanted Aaron, then 40, returning for another season on the field. They offered him a front office job for $50,000 a year, about $150,000 less than his playing salary.

“Titles?” he said at the time. “Can you spend titles at the grocery store? Executive vice president, assistant to the executive vice president, what does it mean if it doesn’t pay good money? I might become a janitor for big money.”

Aaron became a designated hitter with the Brewers, but hardly closed his career with a flourish. He managed just 22 homers over his last two seasons, going out with a .229 average in 1976.

Even so, his career numbers largely stood the test of time.

Aaron still has more RBIs (2,297), extra-base hits (1,477) and total bases (6,856) than anyone in baseball history.

“I feel like that home run I hit is just part of what my story is all about,” Aaron said.

He was NL MVP in 1957, when the Milwaukee Braves beat the New York Yankees in seven games to give Aaron the only World Series title of his career. It also was his lone MVP award, though he finished in the top 10 of the balloting 13 times.

Aaron also was selected for the All-Star Game 21 consecutive years — every season but his first and his last.

Still, Aaron never received the attention he deserved until late in his career. He played in only two World Series. He was stuck far from the media spotlight in Milwaukee and Atlanta. Early in Aaron’s career, the press focused on outfielders like Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider, who benefited from playing in the media glare of New York City.

“In my day, sportswriters didn’t respect a baseball player unless you played in New York or Chicago,” Aaron said. “If you didn’t come from a big city, it was hard to get noticed.”

He was much more appreciated with the passing of time.

Aaron was elected to Cooperstown in 1982, his first year of eligibility and just nine votes short of being the first unanimous choice ever to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Whitey Ford, Lou Brock, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan and Phil Niekro — Aaron's teammate with the Braves for a decade — all died in 2020, the most Hall of Famers ever to pass away in a calendar year.

Henry Louis Aaron was born in Mobile, Alabama, on Feb. 5, 1934. He headed a long list of outstanding players who came from that Gulf Coast city — Satchel Paige, Willie McCovey, Billy Williams and Ozzie Smith among them.

Aaron, who initially hit with a cross-handed style, was spotted by the Braves while trying out for the Indianapolis Clowns, a Negro Leagues team. The Giants also were interested — imagine him in same outfield with Mays — but Aaron signed with Milwaukee, spent two seasons in the minors and came up to the Braves in 1954 after Bobby Thomson was injured in spring training.

Aaron was a full-fledged star by 1957, when he led the Braves to that World Series victory over Mantle’s New York Yankees. The following year, Milwaukee made it back to the Series, only to blow a 3-1 lead and lose to the Yankees in seven games.

Though he played for nearly two more decades, Aaron never came so close to a championship again.

In 1959, the Braves finished in a tie with the Los Angeles Dodgers for first in the NL, only to lose a best-of-three playoff to the Dodgers for the pennant. Aaron’s only other playoff appearance came in 1969, when the Braves were swept by New York’s Amazin’ Mets in the inaugural NL Championship Series.

His dearth of October appearances was baseball’s loss. In 17 postseason games, Aaron batted .362 (25 of 69) with six homers and 16 RBIs.

But forever, there was that April night in 1974.

Aaron whipped his 34-ounce Louisville Slugger through the strike zone with those powerful wrists. The ball rose higher and higher as the crowd of 53,775 rose to its feet with a collective roar.

Finally, home run No. 715 came down in the Braves bullpen. Despite a mighty leap that left him dangling atop the fence, Dodgers left fielder Bill Buckner never had a chance. Atlanta reliever Tom House made the catch at 9:07 p.m. and swiftly returned the ball to Aaron, who was celebrating at home plate with his teammates and parents.

As Aaron rounded second, two young fans sprinted in from right field, startling No. 44 when they patted him on the back before racing back to the stands in left.

“I guess that will always be a part of me running around the bases,” Aaron said. “I never had anyone run with me before. They were just kids having a good time.”

Dodgers announcer Vin Scully was among those delivering the call on the historic shot.

“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, well aware of the cultural significance. “A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol."

After retiring as a player, Aaron made amends with the Braves for trading him away. He returned as a vice president and director of player development, a task he held for 13 years before settling into a largely ceremonial role as senior vice president and assistant to the president in 1989.

He ventured into business, buying fast food chicken franchises, doughnut shops and an automobile dealership. He also dipped into politics as campaign treasurer for his brother-in-law, David Scott, who was elected to the U.S. House.

Aaron’s younger brother, Tommie, played alongside his brother for parts of seven seasons in both Milwaukee and Atlanta. Though he never had much success, the Aarons hold the record for most homers (768) by a pair of siblings.

Of course, Tommie accounted for just 13 of them. He died of leukemia at age 45 in 1984.

Hank Aaron’s survivors include his wife, Billye, and their daughter, Ceci. He also had four children from his first marriage to Barbara Lucas — Gail, Hank Jr., Lary and Dorinda.

Long after his career was over, Aaron acknowledged that today’s athletes are bigger, stronger and more fit.

Still, he would have been a success in any era.

“I may not have hit 70 homers in a season,” Aaron once said, “but I would have been up there.”

____

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and find his work at https://apnews.com

____

This story includes research from the late Ed Shearer, a longtime Atlanta sports writer for The Associated Press who covered Aaron’s 715th homer.

____

More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP Sports, AP Online Baseball , AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines, AP Entertainment, APOnline Celebrity News, AP Online - Georgia News, AP Online Headlines - Georgia News, AP Sports - Major League Baseball, AP Sports - Minor League Baseball
© Copyright 2021 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Hank Aaron, baseball's one-time home run king, dies at 86
The baseball great and one-time home run king Hank Aaron has died
11:40AM ( 12 minutes ago )
Basketball: Area teams continue to make a move in region play
The region standings are beginning to take shape in several of the northeast Georgia regions covered by AccessWDUN. But not all...
6:50AM ( 5 hours ago )
Girls basketball: LCA routs defending champ Westminster Christian; Dawson County wins
The Lanier Christian girls basketball team is rolling toward the Region 2-3A GAPPS title.
9:09PM ( 14 hours ago )
Sports
Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan discusses vaccine, election reform
Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan discussed the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, election reform and other issues facing the General Assembly during an interview Friday with Martha Zoller om WDUN's "Morning Talk."
11:41AM ( 11 minutes ago )
Trump impeachment to go to Senate Monday, launching trial
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will send the article of impeachment against Donald Trump to the Senate on Monday
11:24AM ( 28 minutes ago )
Gwinnett County schools to resume in-person learning Monday, observe digital learning Tuesday
Gwinnett County Public Schools will resume in-person instruction for students whose families selected that option Monday, Jan. 25. Virtual students will attend classes online as usual.
10:51AM ( 1 hour ago )
Local/State News
Former Make-A-Wish Iowa CEO charged with embezzling funds
The former CEO of Make-A-Wish Iowa has been arrested and charged with first-degree theft and the unauthorized use of a credit card for allegedly stealing thousands of dollars of the charity's money
11:40AM ( 11 minutes ago )
Loathed New York City bus terminal is bound for an upgrade
New York City’s main bus terminal could be in for a major overhaul after long being ridiculed for leaky ceilings, dirty bathrooms and frequent delays
11:19AM ( 33 minutes ago )
GOP lawmaker with gun sets off House chamber metal detector
Capitol Police are investigating an incident in Congress involving a Republican lawmaker and a gun
11:17AM ( 34 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Washington hires Martin Mayhew as general manager
The Washington Football Team has hired Martin Mayhew as its general manager
9:44AM ( 2 hours ago )
No. 20 Clemson's trip to FSU headlines ACC weekend slate
No. 20 Clemson visits Florida State this weekend to headline the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule
2:39AM ( 9 hours ago )
Amid cancellation talk, Tokyo Olympics `focused on hosting'
IOC President Thomas Bach and local organizers are pushing back against reports that the postponed Tokyo Olympics will be canceled
2:31AM ( 9 hours ago )
AP Sports
AP source: Twins bolster rotation with $8M deal for Happ
The Minnesota Twins and veteran starting pitcher J
8:32PM ( 1 day ago )
3 title game quarterbacks have similar draft history
Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen have something in common besides being three of the four starting quarterbacks remaining in the NFL playoffs
3:39AM ( 2 days ago )
3 title game quarterbacks hare similar draft history
Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen have something in common besides being three of the four starting quarterbacks remaining in the NFL playoffs
3:03AM ( 2 days ago )
AP Online Baseball
Nearly $1B Mega Millions prize due to long odds, slow sales
The jackpot for the Mega Millions lottery game has grown to nearly $1 billion ahead of Friday night’s drawing after more than four months without a winner
10:48AM ( 1 hour ago )
3 dead in military helicopter crash were experienced pilots
Officials say the three National Guard members killed when a helicopter crashed in an upstate New York field this week were experienced pilots with past deployments to Afghanistan
10:47AM ( 1 hour ago )
Legislator who questioned Black hygiene to lead health panel
A Republican legislator and doctor in Ohio who questioned whether members of “the colored population” were disproportionately contracting the coronavirus because of their hygiene is drawing new criticism after his appointment to lead the state Senate Health Committee
10:44AM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
McConnell seeks to push Trump impeachment trial to February
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell wants to postpone Donald Trump’s impeachment trial
6:18AM ( 5 hours ago )
Congress poised for quick action on Biden's Pentagon nominee
Congress has sent President Joe Biden the first bill that he'll sign into law, a measure to allow retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as his secretary of defense
6:14AM ( 5 hours ago )
Islamic State claims deadly and rare twin blasts in Baghdad
Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a rare suicide attack that rocked central Baghdad, killing 32 people and wounding dozens
6:11AM ( 5 hours ago )
AP Online National News
Bond film 'No Time to Die' delayed again because of virus
Producers of the forthcoming James Bond thriller “No Time to Die” say the film’s release has been delayed again, until the fall of 2021, because of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic
5:11AM ( 6 hours ago )
With new album, Epik High endures in South Korea music scene
Popular South Korean hip-hop trio Epik High was working on a song called “End of the World” before the pandemic hit last year
4:18AM ( 7 hours ago )
'Your Land'? Some Native Americans question inaugural song
Native Americans celebrated as Joe Biden revoked a pipeline permit and halted border wall construction on his first day as president
8:41PM ( 15 hours ago )
AP Entertainment
Inauguration fashion: Purple, pearls, American designers
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris showcased American designers at their inauguration Wednesday
1:29PM ( 22 hours ago )
Hollywood on the Potomac: A-list turns out for Biden-Harris
Stars ranging from Lady Gaga to Bruce Springsteen have capped a star-studded inauguration for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris
2:05AM ( 1 day ago )
The Latest: Fireworks light up sky to celebrate inauguration
Fireworks lit up the sky behind the Washington Monument to mark the end of Inauguration Day for President Joe Biden
10:17PM ( 1 day ago )
APOnline Celebrity News
Mets fire GM after he sent explicit texts to female reporter
New York Mets general manager Jared Porter has been fired after sending sexually explicit, uninvited text messages and images to a female reporter in 2016 when he was working for the Chicago Cubs
10:44AM ( 3 days ago )
Report: Mets GM admits explicit texts to female reporter
New York Mets general manager Jared Porter sent graphic, uninvited text messages and images to a female reporter in 2016 while working for the Chicago Cubs in their front office, according to an ESPN report
6:38AM ( 3 days ago )
ESPN report: Mets GM sent explicit texts to female reporter
New York Mets general manager Jared Porter sent graphic, uninvited text messages and images to a female reporter in 2016 while working for the Chicago Cubs, according to an ESPN report
12:22AM ( 3 days ago )
AP Sports - Major League Baseball
Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan discusses vaccine, election reform
Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan discussed the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, election reform and other issues facing the General Assembly during an interview Friday with Martha Zoller om WDUN's "Morning Talk."
By AccessWDUN staff
11:41AM ( 11 minutes ago )
Trump impeachment to go to Senate Monday, launching trial
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will send the article of impeachment against Donald Trump to the Senate on Monday
11:24AM ( 28 minutes ago )
Gwinnett County schools to resume in-person learning Monday, observe digital learning Tuesday
Gwinnett County Public Schools will resume in-person instruction for students whose families selected that option Monday, Jan. 25. Virtual students will attend classes online as usual.
By Regan Spinks, AccessWDUN Staff
10:51AM ( 1 hour ago )
Thrift, resale stores open for new year de-cluttering
​January is almost over, and if you jumped on the resolution to declutter you may be wondering... what do I do with all this stuff?
10:00AM ( 1 hour ago )
McConnell seeks to push Trump impeachment trial to February
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell wants to postpone Donald Trump’s impeachment trial
6:18AM ( 5 hours ago )