Today, baseball lost a legend.
Hank Aaron, the Braves outfielder most famous for breaking Babe Ruth’s record for most home runs in baseball history, passed away, yet another devastating loss of an MLB legend in the past 12 months.
Born in Mobile, Alabama to a working-class family, Aaron learned how to play baseball by hitting bottle caps with sticks and with other found materials, as his parents could not afford baseball equipment for him. In 1951, he signed a contract with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues. He was almost immediately pursued by Major League teams, signing a contract with the Boston Braves that same year. In 26 Negro League games, Aaron hit .366 with 33 RBIs.
After signing with the Braves, Aaron made his way through the Minor Leagues, winning the 1953 South Atlantic League MVP award with the Jacksonville Suns. In 1954, he made his Major League debut with the now-Milwaukee Braves, and the rest was history. There will be a very long time until baseball sees another pure all-around talent like “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron. He is at the top of the list in nearly every offensive category, holding the title of most career runs batted in (RBIs), most extra base hits, and total bases. Aaron has the most hits for a right-handed hitter in baseball history, and only two others had more total hits throughout their career than Aaron did. He is fourth in runs scored, and second in both home runs and at-bats. While Aaron is most remembered for his offense, his defensive talent should not be underestimated; he won three Gold Glove awards throughout his career. Remarkably, Aaron was an all-star for 21 straight years, and unsurprisingly holds the record for the most all-star selections with 25. In 1957, he won the National League MVP award and the World Series with the Milwaukee Braves. He is on the exclusive list of players to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility, entering the Hall in 1982.
Hank Aaron was not just an extraordinary athlete, but a trailblazer in a time where he faced incredible adversity and overt racism. Like all Black athletes at the time, Aaron was forced to stay in different hotels than the rest of his teammates. Especially around the time he broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, he would receive vile, slur-filled letters and threats. He kept all of the letters, and his wife Billye once told a reporter from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution how Hank would go up into the attic and read the notes, “picking the psychic wounds he suffered as a Black man threatening a white man’s legacy.” His perseverance through the racism he faced and status as a high-profile Black athlete led him to join forces with then-Congressman Andrew Young and Mayor Ivan Allen to accelerate the desegregation of Atlanta.
On and off the field, Hank Aaron will forever be remembered as one of the greatest men to ever represent the sport of baseball. His loss is devastating to the entire baseball community.