“Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron has died
by Victoria Johnson
Posted 1/22/21, 12:24 pm
Hank Aaron, the baseball great who smashed records and racial barriers, died on Friday at the age of 86, his family said. Aaron held the Major League Baseball home run record for 33 years and entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. Born Henry Louis Aaron in 1934 in Mobile, Ala., he began his career with a brief stint in the Negro Leagues before joining the Milwaukee Braves in 1954. Three years later, he had his best season, logging 44 home runs and 132 RBIs and leading the Braves to a World Series championship. When the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, Aaron moved with them, later returning to Milwaukee to join the Brewers at the end of 1974.
What made him so famous? Despite his early successes and consistency, Aaron did not achieve national attention until the 1970s. As his home run count climbed, so did antagonism from fans who did not want to see a black man surpass the all-time record held by Babe Ruth. In 1973, he ended the season with 713 home runs—one fewer than the Sultan of Swat. Letters poured into the Braves’ office, containing everything from racial slurs to plots against his children and death threats. Aaron said he didn’t read most of the hate mail, but kept it as motivation to break the record. On April 8, 1974, he hit his 715th homer, officially passing Ruth’s record. After his retirement in 1976, Aaron took a position in the Braves’ front office. In 1995, he co-founded the Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation with his second wife, Billye, to help disadvantaged children. He is survived by his wife and five of his six children, along with several grandchildren.
Dig deeper: From the WORLD archives, read John Dawson’s report on Barry Bonds, the scandal-embattled player who eventually broke Aaron’s home run record.
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