Another baseball legend has passed.
News broke on Friday morning of the death of iconic slugger “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron, at the age of 86, and immediately the baseball world felt darker, as a bright light had been extinguished. We lost seven Hall of Famers in 2020, and it seems that 2021 will not allow a reprieve from those losses.
As Aaron’s family and the baseball world mourn his passing, let’s remember the incredible career this legend had.
Aaron was a Hall of Famer in absolutely every sense of the designation, and possibly one of history’s greatest players. He spent 21 years of his 23-year career with the Braves, and to this day still holds the all-time career record for RBIs with 2297. His 755 home runs were second only to Barry Bonds, who broke Aaron’s record in 2007.
Hank Aaron was a 25-time All-Star, MVP, three-time Gold Glove winner, two-time batting title winner, and of course a World Series winner in 1957.
It is almost impossible to properly memorialize a man who meant so much to baseball. He started his career with the Negro Leagues club the Indianapolis Clowns in 1951 before agreeing to terms with the Boston Braves in 1952. By 1954 he made his major league debut with the now Milwaukee Braves, and ten days after his debut he hit his first major league home run off of Vic Raschi of the Cardinals.
Aaron encountered no shortage of racism and friction during his climb to the majors, and he would frequently recall experiences during both his MLB and Negro Leagues career of being victim to incredibly vile behavior.
While we celebrate his incredible home run milestone, there were a lot of roadblocks in the way to him achieving it. First, he was 39 in the season where he came within one run of tying Babe Ruth’s record and was by no means in his prime any longer, and he feared that he might not return — or even live to see — the 1974 season. He received death threats from those angry that he would dare to break the historical record set by Ruth, and the racist fury behind these threats was enough that Aaron and those around him were afraid for his life.
On April 4, 1974 he tied Ruth’s record, and then in front of one of the largest crowds in Atlanta Braves history, he hit home run 715 off of Al Downing of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Aaron continued to play until 1976, obliterating Ruth’s record completely by amassing 755 in his career.
Aaron, who was with the Braves through every iteration of their evolution, returned to the team in an executive position after he retired from playing. His number 44 was retired by the club in 1977.
He continued to live in Atlanta until his passing. Aaron had six children from his two marriages, and is survived by his wife Billye Aaron. He will be missed by all who ever knew him or had the pleasure to watch him play.