With the pandemic taking so many lives over the past year in this country and in the the world, most of us are numb to the news of another death. It is devastating when it is someone we know and sad when it is someone we didn’t know personally. Someone that has touched our lives in a positive way at one time. One who made us smile and filled us with excitement. A person who took us away from the struggles and disappointments of every day life.
Today we mourn the passing of the great Henry Aaron who died peacefully in his sleep last night at the age of 86. He joins the list of Hall of Fame players that have been taken from all of us in this year-plus of death and despair. A year of divisiveness and unrest, to where we all long for an end to all of the anger and hate in our country. We deserve to be happy and always need people like Henry Aaron to give us something to smile about and over the years, he did just that. As a player and as a hero figure in his post playing days, he did things we all dreamt of being able to do. That’s important.
He was a true ambassador to those less fortunate in this world. He grew up poor in Mobile, Alabama during the Jim Crow era and faced many obstacles. He never forgot where he came from and eventually established the “Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation Inc.” Its mission as stated is to “Promote youth development by providing funding that support the achievements of youth with limited opportunities.”
But what joy he gave those of us who were fortunate enough to have been able to see him play. With the flick of his wrists, he could launch a baseball into the far reaches of any stadium. 755 times those baseballs cleared the fence. He is the all time legitimate home run king of major league baseball. No one will ever convince me that he is not. There was something special about this quiet, respected titan of the game. He did not look menacing yet he terrorized major league pitchers for years and when you look up the definition of consistency, you will see a picture of him. He hit those 755 home runs without ever hitting more than 47 in any one season and doing that when he was 37 years old. That’s an average of almost 38 HRS a year for 23 years! He hit 44 HRS (his number) 4 times and 40 dingers at age 39
Something I will always remember was when I would see him over the past few years in spring training with the Braves. He would hold court to the entire team including minor league players invited to camp out in the outfield. Away from reporters and fans. The look of excitement and awe by young players as well as the veterans, coaches and past great Braves players would give me goose bumps. They all walked away from those meetings with a big smile. I was never able to have a conversation with him but always got a big smile and friendly hello as if he knew me well. What can I say? He was just a nice guy!
Over the next few days we will read many stories about Mr. Aaron. You will hear narratives about him that are familiar and some new things. Some will be about the pain of being a black man in a racially divided country and others about him being honored over and over again throughout his years on this earth. But mostly, you will read about what a giant he was in both baseball and in life. Rest in peace Henry Aaron, you were special and will be missed.