Henry Aaron passed away yesterday. For baseball nerds like myself I was sad to hear the announcement. It came on the heels of what has been quite a week. First, we saw the news that Trump “was gone.” After four years of tremendous turbulence which saw him contribute to the Republican party losing the House of Representatives, then the Senate and finally the presidency his antics, criminal behavior and abusive personality will undoubtedly make him one of the most memorable boneheads in history. That same day civility returned as Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.
Larry King RIP
Then this morning we awakened to the news that legendary broadcaster Larry King passed away at 87. But this post is about Henry Aaron.
The legend of The Hammer
Sports is part of our culture and oftentimes history is made right before our eyes. Henry Aaron was an unassuming professional athlete. He was known as “Hank” and later as “The Hammer.” During his era many great African-American players blossomed and their slugging prowess might have been taken for granted.
Through his career he was not known as a high-profile player. His first major league team was with the Milwaukee Braves which was considered a small-market franchise. This more than anything allowed him to fly under the radar as it was not until you analyzed his stats that you realized his greatness. He played twenty-three years and not once did he go on the DL (disabled list). There were no pads to protect his body from blazing fast-balls, no batting gloves to protect his hands from being jarred by a batted ball which didn’t connect with the sweet spot of the bat. He just went and did his job, day in, day out and through it all earned the distinction as the home run king.
The historic 4th Inning
On that Monday night in 1974, I was at the apartment of my buddy Ed Davis. The Braves were playing our beloved Dodgers and we knew it was a matter of time but we sat in anticipation drinking Schlitz beer. Just like that, after Al Downing (known as Gentleman Al) let go of the pitch we heard Vin Scully describe the historic moment of 715.
Aaron wound up with a whopping 755 home runs. He became a great ambassador of the game and for his activism in civil rights. As Atlanta was preparing for the 1996 Olympics, Aaron’s home field, Fulton County stadium was about to be transformed into the main Olympic venue. We heard that once the games were complete the stadium would be named in honor of him. Unfortunately, that did not happen. In 2000 I finally got a chance to visit “Turner Field” and while I came for the game as the Braves were hosting the Pirates, I wanted to see the field replication that was embedded into the parking lot. It featured an accurate layout of the field and had a marker where Aaron’s 755th blast landed. What a site! As I went to see the game, I was lucky to catch a home run ball off the bat of a Pirates player.
In 2017, Trust Park (Suntrust) became the new home of the Braves. I was still miffed they moved from “the hood” but I had a trip to Atlanta which coincided with the baseball season and luckily it was a home game. I organized the trip because I wanted to see long-time Dodger Matt Kemp who had been recently traded to the Braves. In addition, I wanted to see the much-heralded Hank Aaron statue and other tributes the new stadium featured. It was quite a site.
Aaron’s legacy will be remembered by fans around the globe and known for his humanity and goodwill.