“I never wanted them to forget Babe Ruth. I just wanted them to remember Henry Aaron.”
And we do.
And we always will.
The world lost a giant today.
Real-life baseball hero, Hank Aaron, who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982 by a resounding 97.8% of sportswriters throughout the country, has died at the age of 86.
I have ordered flags to fly at half-staff to honor the passing of @Braves legend Hank Aaron. May generations of Georgians continue to be inspired by his groundbreaking career and tremendous impact on our state and nation. #RIPHammer pic.twitter.com/GrriaQQ5Fc
— Governor Brian P. Kemp (@GovKemp) January 22, 2021
Even the youngest athletes among us know his name.
We know he’s the player who surpassed Babe Ruth’s home run record of 714.
We also know that he hit a lifetime 755 home runs, a record that stood until 2007, when Barry Bonds hit 756.
Hank Aaron wrote a message that evening that appeared on the scoreboard:
“My hope today is that the achievement of this record will inspire others to chase their own dreams.”
His record of total bases still stands today at 6,856, as does his all-time career RBI record (2,297).
Despite the fact that he was a hero for millions of baseball fans, Hank Aaron’s life was anything but easy.
Growing up in segregated Alabama, Aaron used to watch out his window as the Ku Klux Klan marched down his street. He received death threats throughout his career and expressed great sadness that his kids had to “live like they were in prison,” and that he had to go out the back door of the ballparks.
White fans yelled racist slurs from the stands.
It was difficult for many to accept that a black man surpassed the legend of an icon like Babe Ruth.
On the evening he broke Ruth’s home run record, broadcaster Vin Scully made one of the most memorable comments of his time when he observed it was “a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol.”
“What a marvelous moment for baseball … What a marvelous moment for the country and the world.”
RIP Hank Aaron, one of the greatest of all time.pic.twitter.com/kjrvSK19BM
— MLB Vault (@MLBVault) January 22, 2021
Yet despite the racist treatment he received, Hank Aaron remained a symbol of courage, grace under fire.
He inspired generations of children to dream bigger for themselves.
He stood above the smallness.
He became the greatness.
May you rest in peace, Hank Aaron.
May you teach the angels to “play ball!”