The world is mourning the loss of baseball Hall of Fame legend Hank Aaron, who died in his sleep. The man known as the “home run king,” who broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, was as much of a legend off the field as he was on the field. Aaron stared down racism, death threats and hateful rhetoric as he pursued Ruth’s record. Determined and undeterred, Aaron continued his march to greatness, becoming a baseball legend in the process. On April 8,1974, Aaron broke Ruth’s record, hitting his 715th home run at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
Aaron, also known as “Hammer” or “Hammerin’ Hank,” spent most of his career with the Braves in Milwaukee and then in Atlanta. At the young age of 23, the young man born and raised in Mobile, AL, led the Milwaukee Braves to the World Series championship in 1957 and never looked back. In 1982, Hank Aaron, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame following an outstanding career. He had a MLB career batting average of .305 which was higher than those of his contemporaries Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle.
Citing baseball legend Jackie Robinson as his inspiration, Aaron also worked to ensure civil rights for everyone. Aaron played for one month in the Negro leagues as part of the Indianapolis Clowns before being drafted by the Milwaukee Braves. Having grown up in the segregated South and experienced the vitriol and racism in the North while chasing Ruth’s record, he understood the need for civil rights protections. Aaron campaigned for then-Sen. John F. Kennedy (D-Mass.) in Milwaukee in 1960 and is often credited with helping the Democratic candidate win the Wisconsin presidential primary. Although initially reluctant to return to the South, Aaron made the move with the Braves in 1966, becoming a luminary and major figure in Atlanta, “the city too busy to hate.”
Aaron also campaigned for then Governor Bill Clinton in 1992; Clinton credits Aaron for helping to deliver Georgia in the presidential election with a rally he organized on Clinton’s behalf. In 2001, former President Clinton presented Mr. Aaron with the Presidential Citizens Medal for “exemplary service to the nation.” Aaron and his wife Billye are philanthropists who support many causes including education and equal access to resources through the Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation and community partnerships with organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
In 2017, the Billye Suber Aaron Pavilion officially opened at Morehouse School of Medicine’s campus on Westview Drive. The two-story addition to the Hugh M. Gloster Building, was the result of a $3 million donation from Aaron and a $3 million grant from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation.
Aaron is survived by his wife, Billye, and five children, Gaile, Hank Jr, Lary, Dorinda and Ceci. He was 86.
This post was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.