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Major League Baseball (MLB) lost a legend Friday, but more so than that, America lost an icon. According to those close to him, Henry “Hank” Aaron passed away Friday, January 22, peacefully in his sleep.
At the age of 86, many would agree he lived a complete life. When you look back on his life, you’d quickly realize he lived through and endured more than any one man should ever have to!
Aaron was born on February 5, 1934, in Mobile, Alabama. Baseball was a passion from an early age as he idolized Jackie Robinson being the first African American to break the modern major league color barrier. Aaron saw baseball as his route to escape poverty and segregation, but he soon grew to learn that by escaping some problems, he ran headfirst into others.
His professional career began with a $200 a month contract with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League in 1951. A three-month stint with the team, and exceptional play, landed him a contract offer from the Boston Braves.
Excelling as a Black man in a White man’s league during the ’50s, a time when racial segregation was in full force, Aaron brought with it an added pressure that only a few could relate to. When he was with his team in southern states, he was often forced to be separated because of Jim Crow laws. Aaron often had to make his own arrangements for housing and meals when on the road, an obstacle that was only unique to the Black player’s experience.
The obstacles he overcame while cementing himself as one of the greatest hitters of all time cannot be underscored enough. While on his way to breaking Babe Ruth’s 714 career home run record, the hate mail and death threats that Aaron began to receive grew-so-much that the team had to hire a secretary specifically to handle Aaron’s mail. The night he hit his 713 home run, on the last night of the 1973 season, Aaron said his only fear was that he might not live to see the 1974 season.
In his first swing of the 1974 season, Aaron tied Ruth’s record and then went on to break it four days later in front of a record 53,775 people in Atlanta. He finished his career with 755 home runs, .305 career batting average, and averaged 32 home runs and 99 RBIs per year. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, receiving votes on 97.8% of ballots, a percentage second only to Ty Cobb, who received 98.2% in 1936. It’s easy to say Aaron’s numbers clearly speak for themselves and the skill he possessed.
A recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2002, Aaron helped usher in a new era of diversity in Major League Baseball. After his playing days, Aaron became one of the first Black Americans to hold a senior management position in the MLB as he became the Braves’ vice president and director of player development.
It’s amazing to look back on his life and career and see all that Aaron had accomplished. We can only imagine how much more he would’ve accomplished had he not had to face and overcome all the obstacles that were placed in front of him. Henry “Hank” Aaron is the personification of black excellence!