Hank Aaron, American Sports Icon, Dead at 86
Hank Aaron, who left his mark as one of baseball’s greatest all-around players, died Friday. He was 86.
The Atlanta Braves, Aaron’s longtime team, said he died peacefully in his sleep. No cause was given.
Aaron set a wide array of hitting records during his 23-year career, including RBIs, extra-base hits and total bases.
But the Hall of Famer will be remembered for one swing above all others — the one that made him baseball’s home run king.
It was a title he would hold for more than 33 years, a period in which “Hammerin’ Hank” claimed a place among the ranks of America’s most iconic sporting figures.
Before a sellout crowd at Atlanta Stadium and a national television audience, Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record with No. 715 off 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 still consider Aaron the true home run king because of allegations that Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs.
Bonds finished his controversial career with 762, though Aaron never begrudged him eclipsing his mark.
He wasn’t on hand when Bonds hit No. 756, but he did tape a congratulatory message that was shown on the video board in San Francisco shortly after the new record-holder went deep.
While 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.
Besides, he always had that April night in 1974.
“Downing was more of a finesse pitcher,” Aaron remembered shortly before the 30th anniversary of the landmark homer. “I guess he was trying to throw me a screwball or something. Whatever it was, I got enough of it.”
Aaron’s journey to that memorable homer was hardly pleasant. He was the target of extensive hate mail as he closed in on Ruth’s cherished record of 714.
“If I was white, all America would be proud of me,” Aaron said almost a year before he passed Ruth. “But I am black.”
He kept all those hateful letters, a bitter reminder of the abuse he endured and never forgot.
Aaron spent 21 of his 23 seasons with the Braves, first in Milwaukee, then in Atlanta after the franchise moved south in 1966.
He finished his career back in Milwaukee, traded to the Brewers after the 1974 season when he refused to take a front office job that would have required a pay cut.
While hammering homers became his signature accomplishment, Aaron was hardly a one-dimensional star. In fact, he never hit more than 47 home runs in a season (though he did have eight years with at least 40).
But it can be argued that no one was so good, for so long, at so many facets of the game.
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 also was a gifted outfielder with a powerful arm. He was a three-time Gold Glove winner.
Then there was his work on the base paths. Aaron posted seven seasons with more than 20 stolen bases, including a career-best of 31 in 1963 when he became only the third member of the 30-30 club — players who have totaled at least 30 homers and 30 steals in a season.
To that point, the feat had only been accomplished by Ken Williams (1922) and Willie Mays (1956 and ’57).
The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.
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