Hammerin’ Hank Aaron legacy is one that stretched across all of baseball
By David Rice
Hank Aaron played briefly in the Negro Leagues before having his contract purchased for just $10K by the Milwaukee Braves from the Indianapolis Clowns. He had an average first season in the majors, hitting the first 13 homers of his 23-year career while batting .280 and driving in 69 runs. The next season Aaron broke out and smashed 27 homers while batting .314 with 106 RBIs.
Over the next 16 seasons, Aaron would hit over 30 homers in all but one season (1968 where Aaron hit 29 homers). He also knocked in over 100 runs in 10 of those 16 seasons. That is one thing that always amazed me about Aaron was his consistency throughout most of his career. Aaron never hit 50 or more home runs in a season, but yet he broke Babe Ruth’s home run record of 714 career homers.
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Aaron surpassed the Great Bambino’s record in 1974 as a member of the Atlanta Braves off of Dodgers pitcher Al Downing. Some fans ran onto the field to congratulate Aaron as he rounded the bases. It was a very special night for a very special man, Hank Aaron.
But Aaron’s legacy stretches much further than baseball statistics. Aaron had to suffer through some racial mistreatment. Often, Aaron had to stay in separate hotels from his teammates. Aaron also held his tongue and responded in a positive manner. Later Aaron would become one of the Braves’ team leaders.
When Hank Aaron made it to the majors in 1954 with the Milwaukee Braves, it was only a few years after Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier in baseball.
He would play a total of 23 seasons from 1954-1977 and smack a total of 755 home runs with and an MLB record 2,297 RBIs. Aaron also finished with a .305 career batting average. All pretty impressive feats to me.
However, after his playing career ended, Aaron became one of the first African-Americans to hold an executive position in baseball as he became the Senior Vice President for the Atlanta Braves as well as the corporate Vice President of community relations for Turner Broadcasting System known as WTBS which was owned by the former Braves owner Ted Turner.
During this time, he was elected almost unanimously (98.2% of the ballots) in 1982. This was a testament to not only Aaron as a player but as a person as well. The Hank Aaron Award was created in 1999 to honor the hitter who is deemed the most effective hitter in each league (AL & NL). He also had his number 44 retired by the Milwaukee Brewers and the Atlanta Braves, who he played for during his career.
I got a chance to briefly meet Hank Aaron at the 2010 All-Star Game in Anaheim. He was walking with Frank Robinson and former commissioner Bud Selig, near Angels owner Arte Moreno’s luxury box. I was shocked to see him, and said to him how are you Mr. Aaron. He stopped shook my hand and said “Good thank you for asking”. I wish it could have been a longer exchange, but it is still a moment I will not forget anytime soon. Aaron was very polite and genuine, which is what I have heard was the way he was throughout his life in baseball.
Aaron did not want all the attention he received while chasing down Babe Ruth’s home run record. He was even quoted multiple times “Baseball is not about breaking records, it is about playing to the best of your potential,” Aaron said.
Baseball will miss such an amazing and influential man in Hank Aaron, who is definitely one of the all-time greats in its history and he is even more of an amazing person. One that today’s players should strive to emulate. Rest in peace, Hammer you will be missed, but your legacy will live on forever.