Hammerin’ Hank Aaron passes at 86

Hall of Fame Legend, Hank Aaron

He is considered by many to have been the greatest to play the game o baseball. Henry Louis “Hafnk” Aaron, the Hall of Fame slugger whose 755 career home runs long stood as baseball’s gold standard, has died. Hammerin’ Hank was 86.

We are absolutely devastated by the passing of our beloved Hank,” Braves Chairman Terry McGuirk said in a statement. “He was a beacon for our organization first as a player, then with player development, and always with our community efforts. His incredible talent and resolve helped him achieve the highest accomplishments, yet he never lost his humble nature.”Henry Louis Aaron wasn’t just our icon, but one across Major League Baseball and around the world. His success on the diamond was matched only by his business accomplishments off the field and capped by his extraordinary philanthropic efforts.”

Henry “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron was born in Mobile, Alabama, on February 5, 1934. Aaron was one of eight children to his parents Herbert and Estella Aaron. 

In 1951, Aaron began his historic baseball career as a shortstop for the Indianapolis Clowns in the segregated negro leagues.

Nineteen-year-old Aaron entered the Minor Leagues in 1953 while Jim Crow laws were firmly in place. He and two fellow players in the Braves’ Minor League system — shortstop Felix Mantilla and outfielder Horace Garner — were assigned to the franchise’s Class A affiliate in Jacksonville, Fla.

Along with two players from the Athletics’ Savannah squad — Buddy Reedy and Al Isreal — they broke the color barrier in the most notorious of the white Minor Leagues.

A few seasons later, Aaron was signed as a left fielder for the Milwaukee Braves which later moved to his long-time home of Atlanta in 1966. 

As Aaron chased and neared Babe Ruth’s long-standing home run record, he bravely faced daily taunts and insults at ballparks, received threats on his life and was sent thousands of pieces of racist hate mail. He said he didn’t read most of the mail but kept some as a reminder.

“There were times during the chase when I was so angry and tired and sick of it all that I wished I could get on a plane and not get off until I was someplace where they never heard of Babe Ruth,” he wrote in his “I Had a Hammer” autobiography.”But damn it all, I had to break that record. I had to do it for Jackie (Robinson) and my people and myself and for everybody who ever called me a (N-word).”

Legendary baseball announcer Vin Scully acknowledged the importance of what Aaron did during his play-by-play of the game for the Dodgers, calling it a “marvelous moment for baseball … the country and the world.”

“Our family is heartbroken to hear the news of Hank Aaron’s passing,” Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said in a statement on behalf of the Aaron family. “Hank Aaron was an American icon and one of Georgia’s greatest legends. His life and career made history, and his influence was felt not only in the world of sports, but far beyond — through his important work to advance civil rights and create a more equal, just society. We ask all Georgians to join us in praying for his fans, family, and loved ones as we remember Hammerin’ Hank’s incredible legacy.”

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Non-profit 100 Black Men of America of which Aaron was a part, released the following statement honoring the great baseball player.

“Our organization is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of baseball legend and beloved member of the 100 Black Men of Atlanta, Hank Aaron, at 86. “

A legend has fallen. Mr. Aaron was the true embodiment of the strength, perseverance, and resilience of African Americans across this nation,” said Kevin Gooch, chairman of the 100 Black Men of Atlanta. “He became a national hero by fighting through unparalleled hatred and adversity to ascend to the top of the mountain of ‘America’s Pastime’ with 755 home runs.”  

Aaron was a beloved legacy member of the 100 Black Men of Atlanta since 1995. His contributions to the organization helped improved the lives of thousands of young people throughout the Atlanta metro area. 

Chairman Gooch continued, “Mr. Aaron’s lasting impact, which was made alongside his loving wife, Billye, was his unrelenting service and dedication to his community by supporting college scholarships for vulnerable young people, creating economic opportunities through his many business ventures and many, many other community endeavors.”

Aaron was best known for passing Babe Ruth’s all-time homerun record on April 8, 1974 and set a new one at 755; a record that lasted decades after his retiring. 

“He will be sorely missed by all that knew him and knew of his legend. May the Lord rest his soul. Job well done,” stated Gooch. 

Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982 after retiring in 1976 –a career record that stood for more than three decades until Barry Bonds would break it.

Besides the 100 Black Men of Atlanta, Aaron remained active in the community. Just 2 1/2 weeks before his death Friday at age 86, Aaron joined civil rights icons to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. He wanted to spread the word to the Black community that the shots were safe in the midst of a devastating pandemic.

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Getting vaccinated “makes me feel wonderful,” Aaron told The Associated Press. “I don’t have any qualms about it at all, you know. I feel quite proud of myself for doing something like this. … It’s just a small thing that can help zillions of people in this country.”