Hank Aaron: Icon and Hero

I am sad today, as are fans everywhere.

The sports world lost baseball great Hank Aaron, an icon who was not only arguably one of the best players in Major League Baseball history, but also doubled as a reluctant civil rights hero.

There are some people who won’t remember many of Aaron’s on field accolades. The record 25 All-Star game appearances. Winning the National League MVP award in 1957. Three Gold Gloves. Leading the National League in home runs and RBIs four times. His number retired by TWO organizations (by the Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers).

They remember Aaron’s 755 home runs, with the record-tying 715th home run hit during a time where he faced racism while pursing what was then Babe Ruth’s record. But many of those same people did not realize how virulent the racism was.

Could you imagine getting racist letters, many of which was anonymous, threatening to kill you AND your family while trying to do your job? All because you were pursing a record happened to be held by a white dude? The amount of such mail was so great, the Braves had to hire a secretary to help him sort through it.

Aaron managed to compartmentalize and keep it to himself, not lashing out while pursing the hallowed home run record. It took him years to trust the white media members, was rightfully resentful when some had the audacity to call him “bitter”.

Yet he continued increase his legend, with dignity intact, throughout the ordeal.

He became an executive with the Braves in 1976. Since 1980, he served as senior vice president and assistant to the Braves’ president. He was instrumental in forming programs through major league baseball that encouraged the influx of minorities into baseball.

And just like Aaron did during his historic home run chase, he did it all with dignity and grace.

I will wonder out loud who out there is capable to carry the torch from Mr. Aaron. Who will advocate for a bigger presence for blacks in baseball? Who will continue Aaron’s legacy of being a beacon in the community? I don’t know if there is anyone.

That’s why his death hurts.

Categories: baseball, MLB

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