In the world of sports, Babe Ruth was a cultural icon. Hank Aaron was bigger than baseball.
The night he broke arguably the most fabled record in all of North American sports, April 8, 1974, when an Al Downing fastball found its way over the left field fence in Fulton-County Stadium, Hank Aaron had done the unthinkable.
His words following that historic moment, not only for the game of baseball, but for an entire race of people so unfairly marginalized, give credence to why the man they called Hammerin’ Hank was as beloved as he was.
“I’m not trying to make anyone forget the Babe; but only to remember Hank Aaron.”
Aaron was lauded as much for his gentle nature and gregarious smile as he was the countless hearts of pitchers and opposing fans he broke with his 755 home runs.
Aaron, who rose to the professional ranks in the latter days of Jackie Robinson and the eve of the Civil Rights Movement, further abolished the notion of blacks not being suited to play alongside their white counterparts.
A mere look at the back of Aaron’s baseball card says all you need to know about him a player; a lifetime .305 batting average, 3,771 hits, the aforementioned 755 home runs, 2,297 RBI, 6,856 total bases, the latter two serving as all-time records.
The man who came into this world as Henry Louis - the same first and middle name as another Hall of Famer, Lou Gehrig - was an All-Star 25 times, the National League’s MVP in 1957, a World Series champion that same year, the owner of 3 Gold Gloves, 2 batting titles, a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1982, and a member of Major League Baseball’s All-Century Team. Simply put, Hank Aaron’s career was personified by greatness.
Everything Aaron did was done with the utmost professionalism, with his most remarkable quality being the appreciation he had for those who walked in his shoes before he himself, per the video below.
While the likes of the above-mentioned Don Newcombe, the pioneering Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, and Roy Campanella had previously shown that blacks could make it in professional baseball, Aaron put together a track record of longevity that further made it possible for countless other black athletes to shine in their respective sports.
“Stephen A. Smith is not sitting here today if it weren’t for people like himself, Jackie....Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Jim Brown, Mohammed Ali, and some of the great African Americans, who not only excelled in the world of sports, but they extended their reach far beyond the field or court of play,” said the First Take host.
Bob Kendrick, the President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, MO, proclaimed Aaron his all-time favorite athlete in the Friday edition of the Baseball Tonight Podcast, saying he “validated the other heroes of the Negro Leagues,” and calling Aaron’s loss a “tremendous void we will never be able to fill.”
For fans, young and old, Hank Aaron’s loss will be one forever embedded in our consciousness, for there was and is not a single utterance that will deter the legacy of the true-blue home run king.
Through the struggles and successes, Aaron’s outlook on the game he loved and life as a whole, never wavered.
“Failure is a part of success.”
While we may be in the midst of an era in American history where division runs rampant, it seems somewhat poetic for Aaron to depart us when he did, as his taking from this Earth is a reminder that creed has no boundaries on the triumphs any man or woman is capable of, not just here, but anywhere.