Hank Aaron, whose prodigious swing took him from a poverty-stricken section of Mobile, Alabama, to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, has died, his longtime team, the Atlanta Braves, announced Friday. He was 86.
Aaron played 21 of his 23 seasons for the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves, and Braves Chairman Terry McGuirk said he was heartbroken by the death of baseball’s one-time home run king.
“We are absolutely devastated by the passing of our beloved Hank. He was a beacon for our organization first as a player, then with player development, and always with our community efforts,” McGuirk said Friday in a statement.
“His incredible talent and resolve helped him achieve the highest accomplishments, yet he never lost his humble nature. Henry Louis Aaron wasn’t just our icon, but one across Major League Baseball and around the world.”
Aaron blasted 755 home runs in his amazing career that also contributed to the era’s civil rights advances, President Joe Biden said.
“What I deeply admired and respected about him is that each time he rounded those bases — an astonishing 755 trips home — he melted away more and more of the ice of bigotry to show that we can be better as a people and as a nation,” the president said in a statement Friday night.
“Henry Aaron became, in the words of President Carter, ‘the first Black man for whom white fans in the South cheered.’ It was not only his bat, but his character that won over those hearts and minds. For generations of athletes and civil rights advocates who followed, he showed how to be proud and be unafraid to stand up for what is right and just.”
Aaron had been seen in public as recently as Jan. 5 when the Atlanta resident came to Morehouse School of Medicine to get his Covid-19 vaccine. He and former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young got their shots in front of cameras and urged all Americans to seek vaccination.
Former President Barack Obama said in a statement that Aaron “never missed an opportunity to lead — including earlier this month, when Hank and Billye joined civil rights leaders and got COVID vaccines.”
“Whenever Michelle and I spent time with Hank and his wife, Billye, we were struck by their kindness, generosity and grace — and were reminded that we stood on the shoulders of a previous generation of trailblazers,” the 44th president added.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp ordered flags at all state buildings and grounds lowered to half-staff in honor of Aaron for “his important work to advance civil rights and create a more equal, just society.”
And former President Jimmy Carter, a native of Plains, Georgia, on Friday called Aaron a “breaker of records and racial barriers.”
“Rosalynn and I are saddened by the passing of our dear friend Henry Aaron,” the nation’s 39th president said in a statement. “One of the greatest baseball players of all time, he has been a personal hero to us.”
Aaron wrapped up his 23-year career in the majors in 1976 with a raft of records that still stand, including 2,297 runs batted in, 6,856 total bases and 25 All-Star game appearances.
But the former Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves great is best known for a record that no longer stands — hitting his way to the all-time home run record previously held by Babe Ruth and later eclipsed by Barry Bonds.
Aaron showed little bitterness that the power mark was surpassed in a modern era that has emphasized long balls and has been helped along by better training methods and even performance-enhancing drugs.
When Bonds hit his 756th home run in San Francisco in 2007, the Giants played a videotaped congratulatory message from Aaron.
“It’s kind of hard for me to digest and come to realize that Barry cheated in the home runs,” the soft-spoken Aaron told NBC’s “TODAY” show last year, though he still calls Bonds the home run king of baseball and doesn’t believe other great players of the steroid era should be banned from Cooperstown.