By Stacy M. Brown,NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
Baseball lost recognized home run king and an African American hero, Henry “Hank” Aaron recently. He was 86.
Aaron, who broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record on April 8, 1974, was not just a baseball legend but a hero to superstars.
“He’s the one man that I idolize more than myself,” the late boxing legend Muhammad Ali once said about Aaron.
While with the Atlanta Braves, Aaron tied Ruth’s mark of 714 homers on April 7. A day later, he slugged No. 715 against the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Al Downing.
Before and throughout his chase of Ruth’s longstanding record, Aaron was subjected to racism and hate. Death threats were common, and even some teammates and those throughout baseball despised Aaron as he approached their white hero’s record.
Despite beefed up security at Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium, some fans breached the outfield walls as Aaron trotted around the bases following his record-setting dinger.
“A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol,” Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, who called the game, proclaimed as Aaron’s mother, family, and teammates greeted him at home plate.
Born Henry Louis Aaron on February 5, 1934, in a poor Black section of Mobile, Alabama, called “Down the Bay,” Hank Aaron was the third of eight children born to Estella and Herbert Aaron. Aaron’s father made his living as a tavern owner and a dry dock boilermaker’s assistant.
According to biography.com, Aaron and his family moved to the middle-class Toulminville neighborhood when he was eight years old.
Aaron, who became known as “Hammering Hank,” developed a strong affinity for baseball and football at a young age and focused more heavily on sports than his studies.
During his freshman and sophomore years, he attended Central High School, a segregated high school in Mobile, where he excelled at football and baseball.
Aaron first starred in the Negro Leagues in 1952 and again in 1953, batting .366, with five home runs and 33 RBIs in 26 official games. He began his Major League Baseball career in 1954 with the Milwaukee Braves and spent 23 seasons as an outfielder with Milwaukee – the franchise eventually moved to Atlanta.
Aaron finished his career with 755 home runs, a record topped by Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants in 2007.
The U.S. Postal Service once honored Aaron for receiving nearly 1 million pieces of mail, more than any non-politician.
On the 25th anniversary of Aaron’s 715th home run, Major League Baseball created the Hank Aaron Award, given annually to the players with the best overall offensive performances in each league.
Aaron received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, from President George W. Bush in 2002.