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Legendary Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron Passes Away at Age 86
The all time great legendary MLB outfielder of the Milwaukee / Atlanta Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers, Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron, passed away on Friday, January 22nd, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia at the tender age of 86. He peacefully died in his sleep, and his cause of death was listed as natural causes.
Major League Baseball Career Home Run Record
Aaron was best known for his silky sweet home run swing. He broke Babe Ruth’s long standing Major League Baseball record for the most career home runs (714) as “Hammering Hank” hit a total of 755 homers. Eventually 33 years later Barry Bonds broke Aaron’s record after blasting a steroid soaked 762 career long balls in the big leagues.
On April 8th, 1974 Aaron slugged his famous Babe Ruth record breaking 715th career deep shot off of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ left hander, Al Downing, in the fourth inning of the ball game. This monumental event in sports history took place in front of 50,000 cheering fans in Atlanta, Georgia, and as Hank was rounding the bags a couple of crazy fans ran with him around the base path before he eventually touched home plate. Aaron was then hoisted up by his teammates where his parents then embraced him, and finally he was interviewed by the great late Craig Sagar who also passed away in Atlanta, Georgia in 2016. What an iconic moment!
Hall of Fame Honors and the Hank Aaron Award
In 1982 baseball recognized one of their best players ever when they enshrined Aaron in the Baseball Hall of Fame after Hank received 97.8 % of votes in his first eligible year for the MLB’s greatest honor. He was a mere 9 votes short of becoming the first ever unanimous HOF selection. Then in 1999 Major League Baseball once again honored “Hammering Hank” by creating the Hank Aaron Award which is designated annually for the best hitter in both the National and American League.
Off the Field Accomplishments
While on the field Aaron was known as one of the best baseball players ever to take the diamond, off of it Hank was a major activist for civil rights. As he grew up dealing with severe racism, discrimination, and segregation in the deep south he had insurmountable obstacles to overcome throughout his life. For instance, Aaron was unable to play organized high school baseball in his hometown of Mobile, Alabama for only the white students were enabled to play on their high school sports teams.
Another eye opening example of the racism he endured throughout his professional baseball career could be encapsulated when he began receiving death threats on his life as he approached Ruth’s home run record. Aaron once said prior to surpassing the Babe’s career home run record, “If I was white, all America would be proud of me…but I am Black."
Hank had to come up to big league baseball through the Negro Leagues as he formerly played for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League in the early 1950’s. Hank once again demonstrated the constant racism he encountered while playing in Washington D.C. with the Indianapolis Clowns by recalling this event, “We had breakfast while we were waiting for the rain to stop, and I can still envision sitting with the Clowns in a restaurant behind Griffith Stadium and hearing them break all the plates in the kitchen after we finished eating. 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.”
He was offered contracts by both the New York Giants and the Boston Braves following a short and successful stint in the Negro Leagues, and he chose the Boston Braves over a matter of them paying him $50 than the New York Giants. Aaron said, “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.” Just imagine Hank Aaron and Millie Mays playing baseball for the same Major League Baseball franchise. That would have been amazing!
Overall, the home run king of Major League Baseball was a very strong and outspoken advocate of equality and civil rights in United States of America. Aaron seemed to be more proud of his off the field fight for justice than his unbelievable talents, achievements, and honors on the field as one of the best MLB players of all time, and he was definitely decorated as such. Hank will forever be remembered for his character, leadership, and use of his social platform for the greater good of mankind.
Hank Aaron’s Career MLB Achievements, Honors, and Awards
- 25 Time MLB All Star (1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975)
- World Series Champion (1957)
- Nation League MVP (1957)
- 3 Time Gold Glove Award (1958, 1959, 1960)
- 2 Time National League Batting Champion (1956, 1959)
- 4 Time National League Home Run Leader (1957, 1963, 1966, 1967)
- 4 Time National League RBI Leader (1957, 1960, 1963, 1966)
- Atlanta Braves No. 44 Retired
- Milwaukee Brewers No. 44 Retired
- Braves Hall of Fame
- American Family Field Walk of Fame
- Major League Baseball All Century Team
- 2,297 Career Runs Batted In
- 6,856 Career Total Bases
- 1,477 Career Extra Base Hits
- 25 Career All Star Appearances
"Our family is heartbroken to hear the news of Hank Aaron's passing," the Governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, stated. "Hank Aaron was an American icon and one of Georgia's greatest legends. His life and career made history, and his influence was felt not only in the world of sports, but far beyond -- through his important work to advance civil rights and create a more equal, just society. We ask all Georgians to join us in praying for his fans, family, and loved ones as we remember Hammerin' Hank's incredible legacy."
"We are absolutely devastated by the passing of our beloved Hank," the Atlanta Braves chairman, Terry McGuirk, explained. "He was a beacon for our organization first as a player, then with player development, and always with our community efforts. His incredible talent and resolve helped him achieve the highest accomplishments, yet he never lost his humble nature. Henry Louis Aaron wasn't just our icon, but one across Major League Baseball and around the world. His success on the diamond was matched only by his business accomplishments off the field and capped by his extraordinary philanthropic efforts.
"We are heartbroken and thinking of his wife Billye and their children Gaile, Hank, Jr., Lary, Dorinda and Ceci and his grandchildren."
"Hank Aaron is near the top of everyone's list of all-time great players," the Major League Baseball commissioner, Rob Manfred, said. "His monumental achievements as a player were surpassed only by his dignity and integrity as a person. Hank symbolized the very best of our game, and his all-around excellence provided Americans and fans across the world with an example to which to aspire. His career demonstrates that a person who goes to work with humility every day can hammer his way into history -- and find a way to shine like no other."
"If I was white, all America would be proud of me," Hank Aaron once proclaimed almost a year before he passed Babe Ruth’s all time home run record. "But I am Black."
"This is a considerable loss for the entire city of Atlanta," Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms exclaimed. "While the world knew him as 'Hammering Hank Aaron' because of his incredible, record-setting baseball career, he was a cornerstone of our village, graciously and freely joining Mrs. Aaron in giving their presence and resources toward making our city a better place. As an adopted son of Atlanta, Mr. Aaron was part of the fabric that helped place Atlanta on the world stage. Our gratitude, thoughts and prayers are with the Aaron family."
"On the field, Blacks have been able to be super giants," says Aaron. "But once our playing days are over, this is the end of it and we go back to the back of the bus again."
"With courage and dignity, he eclipsed the most hallowed record in sports while absorbing vengeance that would have broken most people,'' President Joe Biden stated. "But he was unbreakable.''
"A breaker of records and racial barriers, his remarkable legacy will continue to inspire countless athletes and admirers for generations to come," President Carter who a Georgia native who often attended Braves games with his wife, Rosalynn, said.
"The former Home Run King wasn't handed his throne," George Bush explained. "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."
"Besides being one of the greatest baseball players of all time, Hank was a wonderful and dear person and a wonderful and dear friend," the former MLB commissioner, Bud Selig, emotionally exclaimed. "Not long ago, he and I were walking the streets of Washington, D.C. together and talking about how we've been the best of friends for more than 60 years. Then Hank said: 'Who would have ever thought all those years ago that a black kid from Mobile, Alabama would break Babe Ruth's home run record and a Jewish kid from Milwaukee would become the Commissioner of Baseball?'"
Barack Obama Tweeted:
“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.”
Magic Johnson Tweeted:
“Rest in Peace to American hero, icon, and Hall of Famer Hank Aaron. I still remember where I was back in the day when he set the record, at that time, to become the home run all time leader. While a legendary athlete, Hank Aaron was also an extraordinary businessman... and paved the way for other athletes like me to successfully transition into business. Hank Aaron is on the Mount Rushmore for the greatest baseball players of all time! Rest In Peace my friend. Cookie and I are praying for the entire Aaron family.
Stacey Abrams Tweeted:
“America lost an extraordinary soul in @HenryLouisAaron. On the field, he brought power + purpose. In the community, Hank Aaron invested in progress, in people & in dreams. May his wife, Billye, his family and friends find peace in their sorrow, knowing how deeply he was loved.”
Bill Russell Tweeted:
“Heartbroken to see another true friend & pioneer has passed away.
@HenryLouisAaron was so much better than his reputation! His contributions were much more than just baseball. Jeannine & I send our & deepest condolences to his wife & kids. #RIPHammeringHank #RIP
Fergie Jenkins Tweeted:
“Saddened to say today I lost one of my heroes, Henry Aaron. I was so Happy when I saw a man of color break the home run record. A great man both on and off the field. I send my love to the Aaron family.”
Keisha Lance Bottoms Tweeted:
“While the world knew him as ‘Hammering Hank Aaron’ because of his incredible, record-setting baseball career, he was a cornerstone of our village, graciously and freely joining Mrs. Aaron in giving their presence and resources toward making our city a better place.”
Cory Booker Tweeted:
“Hank Aaron was not only a home run king, but a king of justice. In the face of racism and vitriol, he broke through barriers with grace on his way to becoming one of the greatest baseball players of all-time. We've lost a true trailblazer and American icon.”
Dan Rather Tweeted:
“A slugger has rounded the bases for the last time. Hank Aaron was a trailblazer and a hero who had to stare down hatred. He was also one of the best ballplayers to ever play the game. He was a joy to watch and a marvel to behold. May he Rest In Peace.”
Dwight Gooden Tweeted:
“I met the hammer in 1984 was a better person than a baseball player r.i.p my friend”
Dave Winfield Tweeted:
“All I can tell you at this moment is besides our friendship #America @MLB_PLAYERS @NLBMuseumKC @MLB will miss @HenryLouisAaron #admiration #respect for his impact on society. I was always honored to spend time with Hank”
Lenny Kravitz Tweeted:
“Hank Aaron, my childhood baseball hero, has gone home. Watching him break Babe Ruth’s record for most home runs on television was a monumental moment. As a young black child, he inspired me to push for excellence. Rest easy Sir.”
MC Hammer Tweeted:
“His dignity unsurpassed. The embodiment of Black Excellence before the term was conceived. He took the arrows, knives and venom of hatred and racism in stride without missing a step. Breaking records but never broken. King of baseball’s kingdom sans a crown.”
David Ortiz Tweeted:
“A legend on and off the ball field... the best to ever do it... RIP Mr Hank Aaron #44”
Russell Wilson Tweeted:
“Hank... my dad and Grandfather raved about you. Thanks for changing the game of baseball... but more importantly thanks for bringing America together through love in a time of such great hate. Heaven is a good place. #RIPHankAaron”
Frank Thomas Tweeted:
“I’m speechless! RIP to the greatest of all time Mr. Hank Aaron!! I’m just stunned. Hank was the standard of greatness for me. The one man who I acted like a kid around star struck always! He was the definition of class! God Bless you and your family!! #HRKing#HammeringHank”
Chipper Jones Tweeted:
“I can’t imagine what Hank Aaron went through in his lifetime. He had every right to be angry or militant.....but never was! He spread his grace on everything and every one he came in contact with. Epitome of class and integrity. RIP Henry Aaron! #HammerinHank”
Dale Murphy Tweeted:
“Nancy and I pass our condolences to all of Hank's family today. So saddened to hear the news of Hank's passing. There was a certain spirit, even a reverence, when in Hank Aaron's presence that you could feel. Grace, strength, integrity. We were blessed to have known him. @Braves”
Mike Trout Tweeted:
“You were and are an inspiration to be a better person on and off the field. We lost a true LEGEND of the game today... #RIPHankAaron”
Marcus Stroman Tweeted:
“RIP Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron! Sad sad day. Thankful for your heroism! ”
J P Crawford Tweeted:
“R.I.P legend. Thank you for paving the way for us”
Justin Turned Tweeted:
“Gibson, Ford, Brock, Seaver, Kaline, Morgan, Niekro, Lasorda, Sutton and now Hammerin Hank. We’ve lost some of the greatest to ever do it this year. @TommyLasorda is gonna have a hell of a roster to manage up there. #RIPLegends”
Colin Kaepernick Tweeted:
“Hank Aaron has always been a giant—a living legend—whose courage, resilience, & honor inspired millions. He fought for us with every swing of his bat, & paved the way for us to walk in. I was fortunate enough to be able to tell him “thank you” in person. Rest in Power Hammerin’ Hank”
President Biden Tweeted:
“Each time Henry Aaron rounded the bases, he wasn’t just chasing a record, he was helping us chase a better version of ourselves — melting away the ice of bigotry to show that we can be better as a nation. He was an American hero. God bless, Henry “Hank” Aaron.”
“Longtime MLB home run king Hank Aaron dies at 86”, espn.com, January 22, 2021.
“Tributes to a legend: Baseball world and beyond honors Hank Aaron”, espn.com, January 22, 2021.
“Hank Aaron”, wikipedia.org, January 27, 2021.
“Hank Aaron”, baseball-reference.com, January 27, 2021.
“Atlanta Braves Team History & Encyclopedia”, baseball-reference.com, January 27, 2021.
“Milwaukee Brewers Team History & Encyclopedia”, baseball-reference.com, January 27, 2021.
Written by: David Green