Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron (1934-2021)

Hank Aaron, Milwaukee Braves
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Legendary baseball player Henry Louis Aaron was born February 5, 1934, in Mobile, Alabama, the third of eight children to Herbert Aaron, a shipyard worker at Alabama Drydock and Shipbuilding Company, and his wife, Estella. Aaron decided he wanted to be a major league baseball player after hearing a speech by the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson while visiting Mobile on April 3, 1950, during spring training. While in high school, Aaron began playing for the Mobile Black Bears, a semi-pro team, and in 1952 began a season with the Indianapolis, Indiana Clowns. Aaron was the last player to come from the Negro Leagues and achieve success in Major League Baseball.

In 1954, Aaron was brought up to the Milwaukee Braves to replace an injured outfielder.  Aaron hit a home run in his first major league at-bat. He continued to hit home runs in remarkable fashion for the next two decades. Aaron was the only major league player to hit at least twenty home runs in every season for twenty consecutive years, at least thirty for fifteen years, or at least forty for eight years. He was the first player to record more than 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.  The Milwaukee Braves became the Atlanta Braves in 1966, and Aaron moved south with the team.  On April 8, 1974, Aaron hit his 715th career home run, breaking the record held by Babe Ruth since 1935.  His achievement came before a crowd of 53,775, the largest ever at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and was off a 4th inning pitch by Los Angeles Dodger Al Downing.

In the period when Aaron was closing in on Ruth’s home run record, he grew angry and disillusioned by the hate mail and physical threats he and his family received on a daily basis. When asked if he threw out the hate mail, Aaron replied that “No, I didn’t. That will never be thrown away…We still have to be reminded that things are not as good as we think they are.”

Although he will be remembered as the player who broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron set a number of other records in Major League Baseball.  He holds the record for most career home runs (755), most runs batted in (2,297), and most games played (3,298). Aaron also won three consecutive Gold Glove awards from 1958 through 1960, played in a record-tying twenty-four All-Star games and was named National League MVP in 1957.  Hank Aaron was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. The Hank Aaron Award is given annually to the best overall hitter in each league. In 2002, Henry Aaron was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush, the highest honor given to a civilian by the American government.  Aaron was a member of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity.

On January 22, 2021, Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron passed away in Atlanta, Georgia at the age of 86.