Hank Aaron, the baseball legend who was once Major League Baseball’s homerun king and is a civil rights icon remembered for his humility and grace in the face of racism, has died at the age of 86, his former team, the Atlanta Braves, has confirmed.
MLB.com, describing Aaron as “a son of the Deep South who soared above its poverty and racism to become one of the most consequential figures in American history,” said he died on Friday, January 22, 2021. He was known as Hammerin’ Hank, and he was one of the best baseball players who ever lived and the last to play in both the Negro and Major Leagues.
Aaron’s prowess on the baseball field is matched by his “relentless dignity and grace” as he faced hatred and racism while he pursued – and ultimately vanquished – the 714-home run record held by Babe Ruth. His off-field community presence was just as remembered.
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) January 22, 2021
According to the MLB Hall of Fame, which he belonged to since 1982, Boxing legend Muhammad Ali once called Hank Aaron “The only man I idolize more than myself.”
Georgia congressman Andrew Young declared, according to the Hall of Fame: “Through his long career, Hank Aaron has been a model of humility, dignity, and quiet competence. He did not seek the adoration that is accorded to other national athletic heroes, yet he has now earned it.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Team Remembered Aaron’s ‘Humble Nature’ & Declared Itself Heartbroken
“We are absolutely devastated by the passing of our beloved Hank,” the Braves said in a statement.
“He was a beacon for our organization, first as a player, then with player development, always with community efforts. 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. His success on the diamond was matched only by his business accomplishments off the field and capped by his extraordinary philanthropic efforts.”
The team declared itself “heartbroken.”
Aaron leaves behind his wife, Billye, and their children Gaile, Hank Jr., Lary, Dorinda, and CeCe, and their grandchildren.
2. Aaron Recently Talked About Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine But His Cause of Death Was Not Released
I was proud to get the COVID-19 vaccine earlier today at Morehouse School of Medicine. I hope you do the same! https://t.co/RAlkmkCRra
— Hank Aaron (@HenryLouisAaron) January 5, 2021
Aaron’s cause of death was not released. However, his team revealed that he died peacefully in his sleep.
One of the last news stories about Aaron discussed how proud he was to get a COVID-19 vaccine in early January.
“I was proud to get the COVID-19 vaccine earlier today at Morehouse School of Medicine. I hope you do the same!” he wrote on his Twitter page at that time. It’s the last tweet visible on his page.
3. Aaron Held the Homerun Record for 30 years
One more shot from tonight's Conan Show. pic.twitter.com/OIkjx49su8
— Hank Aaron (@HenryLouisAaron) April 4, 2013
According to MLB.com, Aaron did pass Ruth to be, for a time, the sport’s top homerun hitter of all time. He beat the record on April 8, 1974, at age 40.
Altogether, according to the site, Aaron played 23 seasons in the Major Leagues, starting with the Milwaukee Braves. He retired from the sport in 1976.
During that time he won many awards: He was an All-Star more than two dozen times, was the National League’s Most Valuable Player, and hit an impressive .393 in the World Series for the Atlanta Braves.
He held the home run record for 30 years, MLB notes.
4. Aaron Grew Up in Mobile, Alabama & Received Death Threats During His Homerun Quest
According to the Hall of Fame biography, Aaron “grew up in humble surroundings in Mobile, Ala. He passed through the sandlots with brief stops in the Negro Leagues and the minor leagues before he settled in with the Braves, where he ultimately became one of baseball’s most iconic figures.”
He was the son of Estella and Herbert Aaron, who was a tavern owner and a dry dock boilermaker’s assistant. The couple raised eight children in humble circumstances, according to Biography.com, which said he attended a segregated high school.
The site describes how he faced racist hatred, sometimes in the form of letters and death threats, when he was pursuing the homerun record.
Although he didn’t “inflame” the situation, he also spoke clearly about injustices faced by Blacks, Biography.com explained, quoting him as saying, “On the field, Blacks have been able to be super giants. But, once our playing days are over, this is the end of it and we go back to the back of the bus again.”
He was a consistent player in addition to his success with homeruns. According to the Hall of Fame, he reached “the .300 mark in batting 14 times, 30 home runs 15 times, 90 RBI 16 times and captured three Gold Glove Awards.”
Although his homerun record was eventually surpassed, he still holds other records: RBI (2,297) and total bases (6,856).
5. Aaron Was Remembered in Tributes for His Grace in the Face of Racism
People remembered Aaron for his humanity and his grace in the face of virulent racism.
Former MLB player Chipper Jones wrote, in a tweet shared on the Atlanta Braves’ page, “I can’t imagine what Hank Aaron went through in his lifetime. He had every right to be angry or militant…..but never was! He spread his grace on everything and every one he came in contact with. Epitome of class and integrity. RIP Henry Aaron! #HammerinHank.”
The New York Yankees wrote, “The New York Yankees mourn the loss of baseball legend Hammerin’ Hank Aaron. His impact on and off the field will never be forgotten. We send our condolences to his family & loved ones.”