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Hank Aaron (1934–2021), baseball legend with the Braves

by Legacy Staff

Hank Aaron was a Hall of Fame slugger for the Braves who held the Major League Baseball career home run record for 33 years.

Early life and career

Born Henry Louis Aaron on Feb. 5, 1934, Aaron grew up in poverty and as a child had to fashion homemade bats and baseballs to practice the sport. After excelling in the Negro Leagues and minor league baseball, Aaron made it to the majors with the 1954 Milwaukee Braves. Though he had a respectable rookie season, it was in the following year that he began to hit his stride, batting .314 with 27 home runs and 106 RBIs. In 1957, he led the Braves to a World Series win against the New York Yankees and was voted the National League’s MVP. He hit 44 home runs in ’57, a total he matched again in 1963 and 1966, the year the team relocated to Atlanta, Georgia.

Home run record

Already a Hall of Fame shoo-in after joining the 3,000-hit club in 1970, Aaron ended the 1973 season with 713 home runs, just one behind Babe Ruth’s (1895–1948) long-standing record. Aaron endured racist hate mail and death threats throughout the offseason, though they were balanced by an outpouring of support from fans. He tied Ruth’s record with his first swing of the 1974 season, and he hit his 715th home run April 8, 1974, at the advanced baseball age of 40, to take sole possession of the record. He retired after the 1976 season with 755 home runs, a record that stood for 33 years until Barry Bonds broke it in 2007.

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During his career, Aaron also racked up 3,771 hits while maintaining a .305 batting average and appeared in 25 All-Star games.

After retirement

Aaron was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, his first year of eligibility. In retirement, he worked as an executive for the Braves, becoming one of the first Black executives in high-level MLB management. In 1999, Major League Baseball began awarding a yearly Hank Aaron Award for the best overall offensive player in the American and National leagues. He was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002.

Aaron on the racism he faced as he pursued the home run record

That didn’t bother me as much as you hear. Jackie Robinson had set the tone, and I was not about to fold the tent. I was there to perform my duty, and I knew that I had been given the opportunity to play. And just for a few people to write a few letters and all these other things, it didn’t make any difference to me.” – from a 1999 interview with Historynet

Tributes to Hank Aaron

Full obituary: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Chuck Falzone contributed to this report.

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