ATLANTA (AP) – Hank Aaron, who endured racist threats with stoic dignity during his search for Babe Ruth’s home run record and graciously left his mark as one of baseball’s best players, died Friday. He was 86 years old. The Atlanta Braves, Aaron’s longtime team, said he died peacefully in his sleep. No cause was given.
Aaron made his last public appearance just two and a half weeks ago, when he received the COVID-19 vaccine. He said he wanted to help spread the word among African Americans that the vaccine was safe. “Hammerin ‘Hank” set a wide range of batting records during a 23-year career that spent primarily with the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves, including RBIs, extra-base hits and total bases. See also: Michigan legalizes sports betting: The state could generate $ 8 billion a year in sports betting, according to one analyst, but the Hall of Famer will be remembered for one swing above all others, the one that became the king of baseball home runs. It was a title he would hold for more than 33 years, a period in which Hammer slowly but surely reclaimed his rightful place as one of America’s most iconic sports figures, a truly noteworthy national treasure at the same time as Ruth or Ali. or Jordan. Before a sold-out crowd at Atlanta Stadium and a national television audience, Aaron broke Ruth’s home run record with number 715 against Al Downing of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Hall of Famer finished his career with 755, a total surpassed by Barry Bonds in 2007, though many continued to call the Hammer the true home run king due to allegations that Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs. Bonds ended his career tarnished with 762, though Aaron never regretted someone overshadowing his brand. Their common refrain: more than three decades as king was enough. It was time someone else held the record. No one could take away his legacy. “I tried to play the game the way it was supposed to be played,” Aaron said, summing it up better than anyone. He was not present when Bonds reached number 756, but he did record a congratulatory message that was displayed on the video board in San Francisco shortly after the new record holder sank. Though saddened by claims of rampant steroid use in baseball in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Aaron never challenged those marks set by players who may have taken pharmaceutical shortcuts. Plus, he’d always done it that night in April 1974. “Downing was more of a picky pitcher,” Aaron recalled shortly before the 30th anniversary of the historic home run. “I guess he was trying to throw a nut at me or something. Whatever it is, I’ve had enough. ”Aaron’s journey to that memorable home run was not a pleasant one. He was the target of an extensive hate mail as he approached Ruth’s treasured record of 714, much of it sparked by the fact that Ruth was white and Aaron was black. “If I were white, the whole of America would be proud of me,” Aaron said almost a year before turning to Ruth. “But I’m black.” Aaron was constantly followed by bodyguards and forced to distance himself from his teammates. He kept all those hate letters, a bitter reminder of the abuse he endured and never forgot. “It’s very offensive,” he once said. “They call me ‘black’ and whatever other bad words they You can’t ignore them. They’re here. But that’s the way it is for black people in America. It’s something you’ve struggled with all your life. ” After retiring in 1976, Aaron became a revered, almost mythical figure, although he was never the center of attention. He was thrilled when the United States elected its first African-American president, Barack Obama, in 2008. Former President Bill Clinton credited Aaron with helping forge a path of racial tolerance that made Obama’s victory possible. “We are a different country now,” Clinton said at Aaron’s 75th birthday celebration. “You have given us much more than we will ever give you.” Aaron spent 21 of his 23 seasons with the Braves, first in Milwaukee, then in Atlanta after the franchise moved to the Deep South in 1966. He ended his career in Milwaukee, traded to the Brewers after the 1974 season when he refused. to an office job that would have required a large pay cut. While throwing the ball over the fence became his signature achievement, Hammer was not a one-dimensional star. In fact, he never hit more than 47 home runs in a season (although he did have eight years with at least 40 dingers). But it can be argued that no one was that good, for so long, at so many facets of the national pastime. The long ball was just one part of his arsenal. Aaron was a true five-tool star. He posted 14 seasons with a .300 average, the last of them at age 39, and claimed two National League batting titles. He finished with a career average of .305. Aaron was also a talented outfielder with a powerful arm, something often overlooked due to a smooth, effortless stride that his undoubtedly racist critics mistook for nonchalance. He was a three-time Golden Glove winner. Then there was his job on the base roads. Aaron recorded seven seasons with more than 20 stolen bases, including his career-high of 31 in 1963 when he became the third member of the 30-30 club, players who have had at least 30 home runs and 30 steals in one season. Until then, the feat had only been accomplished by Ken Williams (1922) and Willie Mays (1956 and ’57).