Baseball is in mourning. Hank Aaron, one of the greatest players in hot ball history, has passed away at 86 years of age. This was announced by the Atlanta Braves, a team with which he spent much of his career, through a statement on social networks.
Henry Louis Aaron, From a humble family in Mobile (Alabama), he was born on February 5, 1934. He was one of the eight consequent children of the marriage between Herbert Aaron and Estella Pritchett. Hank’s father worked in the town’s shipyards, while his mother took it upon herself to keep the family together – and happy – despite the situation. Due to the low-income situation, Hank played baseball with sticks and bottle caps. In fact, he made his baseball bats and balls out of whatever he found in the trash. While Henry’s mother (Mrs. Estella didn’t like calling him ‘Hank’) wanted the young man to pursue a college career, the little player’s dream was to follow the path of his greatest idol: Jackie Robinson.
In fact, by 1948, a year after Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball by being the first African American to participate in MLB with the Brooklyn Dodgers (now the Los Angeles Dodgers), the legendary second baseman was in Mobile with his team during spring training. Aaron was among the young African-Americans who cheered on Jackie and heard him talk about the need for a good education, but Hank had other plans and at 14 years old he already knew that he wanted to follow in his idol’s footsteps.
By 1951, at just 17 years old, Aaron obtained his first sports contract with the Indianapolis Clowns, one of the many teams that participated in the defunct Negro Leagues (1920-1950). During those years, Hank experienced – on several occasions – moments of racism. In a passage in the book “From Babe to Mel: The 100 Greatest People in Baseball History” (2004), the player recounted a situation that his team went through after a game at Griffith Park in Washington DC
Hank Aaron posing with Atlanta Braves owner Bill Bartholomay (right) after reaching 3,000 career hits in 1970. Source: Gene Smith (AP).
“We ate breakfast while we waited for the rain to stop, and I can still imagine sitting with the Clowns in a restaurant behind Griffith Stadium and hearing them break all the plates in the kitchen after we finished eating. What a horrible sound. As a child, the irony struck me: here we were in the capital, in the land of freedom and equality, and they had to destroy the plates that had been touched by the forks that had been in the blacks’ mouths. If the dogs had eaten from those dishes, they would have washed them, ”said the former player.
With the Indianapolis Clowns, in 26 official Negro Leagues games, Aaron posted a batting average of .366, 5 home runs, 33 RBIs, 41 hits and 9 stolen bases.
Soon after, in 1952, he would have his opportunity in the MLB. The Milwaukee Braves bought Hank for $ 10,000 and the story of this Major League Baseball legend began to write its first pages. In his first year he participated with the Eau Claire Bears of Wisconsin, a team of Minor League Baseball (MiLB). With the Bears, In just 87 official games, he had a .336 batting average, 9 home runs, 116 hits and 61 RBIs. By 1953 he was promoted to the Jacksonville Braves, a South Atlantic League team, and Hank’s name continued to grow. That year, the Jacksonville team finished champion and Aaron was the league MVP with 115 runs, 208 hits, 36 doubles, 125 RBIs, 338 bases and a .362 batting average.
Despite the successes, not everything was rosy in Jacksonville.
“The whites used to yell from the stands and call us crocodile bait,” said Félix Mantilla, a Puerto Rican baseball player and Hank Aaron’s teammate, for the book. “The last hero: a life of Henry Aaron” (2010).
A year later, for 1954, he would receive the call of the Braves to the Major Leagues and the successes would not stop until its induction in the Hall of Fame of Cooperstown in 1982. After 26 seasons in the MLB with the Braves (between Milwaukee and Atlanta) and the Brewers, Hank Aaron was Champion of the World Series (1957 ), 25-time All-Star (1955-1975), National League MVP (1957), three-time Gold Glove (1958-1960), two-time National League Batting Champion (1956 and 1959), four times leader of home runs in the National League (1957, 1960, 1963 and 1966), and with a batting average of .305, 3,771 hits, 2,297 RBIs and 755 home runs to his retirement, Aaron – sportingly – had surpassed to his idol Jackie Robinson and achieved immortality on the diamond. However, the most important achievement in the history of the player was having broken the record for the most home runs in the MLB, imposed by the mythical Babe Ruth.
On April 4, 1974, in a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds, Hank Aaron tied Ruth in the home run department with 714 home runs. in his first at bat. On April 8 of the same year, in Atlanta, before 53,775 people, and having the Los Angeles Dodgers as a rival (his idol’s team), Aaron broke the record in the fourth inning of the game after a pitching by Al Downing and the cheers. they did not wait. In fact, by that time in Los Angeles, legendary sportscaster Vin Scully recounted the player’s feat with passion and ignoring the racial gap of the moment.
“What a wonderful time for baseball,” Scully recounted. “What a wonderful time for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a wonderful moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking the record for an all-time baseball idol“.
The Atlanta Braves, between now and tomorrow, will open the doors to their fans to pay tribute to Hank Aaron at Truist Park in Atlanta. There, fans will be able to leave flowers, candles, messages and an endless number of representative objects of baseball, to say the last goodbye to a legend of the diamond and terror of the pitchers.