Hank Aaron, the long-time holder of baseball’s career home run record, passed away on Friday morning. He was 86 years old.
“Hammerin’ Hank” surpassed Babe Ruth’s record in 1974, and his 755 home runs stood as the new record until he himself was passed by Barry Bonds in 2007. Due to Bonds’ alleged involvement in the BALCO scandal, many still consider Aaron the rightful holder of the record. His 2,297 RBIs are still a Major League record.
While chasing the home run record, Aaron was subjected to overt and direct racist threats, mostly in the form of hate mail. In 1973, he received more mail (930,000 pieces) than any non-politician. Upon Aaron breaking the record, Vin Scully – who was calling the game – remarked, “What a marvelous moment for baseball; what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia; what 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.”
Aaron was more than just a home run hitter though, he was a tremendous all-around player, recording 3771 hits, winning two batting titles and three gold gloves, as well as the 1957 NL MVP. He appeared in a record 25 All-Star games, only missing his first and last seasons. In 1982, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on his first ballot.
An ambassador for the game both during his playing days and after his retirement, Aaron stayed involved with the Braves and MLB for most of his life in official and unofficial capacities. Upon being named Braves vice president and director of player development after stepping away from the game, he became one of the first minorities in Major League Baseball upper-level management.
The Hank Aaron Award, established in 1999, is annually given by Major League Baseball to the best hitter in each league.