RIP Hank Aaron

Incredibly sad news.

Jim Rome
January 22, 2021 - 12:31 pm
Hank Aaron

Getty Images


Incredibly sad news today with the reports that Henry “Hank” Aaron has passed away at the age of 86.

When you talk about titans, when you talk about icons, when you talk about heroes, you better talk about Hank Aaron. Because he was all of that. And he was so much more.

When Aaron was a rookie, in March of 1954, he got to start an exhibition game against the Red Sox. As my guy Terrence Moore wrote in the AJC, “Already possessed of dramatic timing at the age of 20, the rookie promptly drilled a ball that carried the wall, flew over a row of trailers parked outside the Sarasota park and reverberated so loudly in the Red Sox clubhouse that the great Ted Williams emerged, as Aaron recalled, “wanting to know who it was that could make a bat sound that way when it hit a baseball.”

If Ted Williams is coming out of the clubhouse to find out who could make a bat and ball sound like that, that is all you need to know about Aaron’s greatness.

But there’s more. Like this moment.

One of the greatest moments in the history of the game, Hank Aaron passing Babe Ruth as the all-time home run king.

And of course Aaron would go on to break the all-time record for home runs, but if that’s all you think about when you think about Hank Aaron, you are missing out.

But there is so much more to Aaron than that. He is the all-time leader in runs batted in, the all-time leader in extra-base hits, the all-time leader in total bases. He’s fourth in runs scored. And third in hits.

Think about that – the man who is known for home runs is third all-time in hits. Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, and then Hank Aaron.

He was a 20-time All-Star, a three-time gold glove winner, a two-time batting champ, and a first ballot Hall of Famer. He’s similar to Wayne Gretzky, in that it’s easy to forget just how good he was at everything.

As Ernie Johnson said, “There always was a great comparison between Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. I think a Los Angeles writer said it best when we were playing out there, and the guy wrote, ‘Hank Aaron does everything that Willie Mays does, but his cap doesn’t fall off.’ "

If all Hank Aaron did was rack up crazy stats, that would be an unbelievable impact. But he was so much more than that. He came into the league seven years after Jackie Robinson and when the Braves moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta before the 1966 season, he transformed the city.

As the iconic Andrew Young told Terrence Moore, “His coming here opened up the town significantly. That actually was (then-mayor) Ivan Allen’s plan, that big-league sports would bring a big-league attitude to the city of Atlanta. And it was right about that time that we started the campaign of ‘the city too busy to hate.’ So I’ve always said that Hank Aaron made a huge contribution to the successful desegregation of Atlanta. He did so very quietly and very effectively.”

Again, think about that – everything he did on the field was amazing, but his impact in desegregating Atlanta was so much larger.

And that doesn’t mean it came easily. It sure as hell did not. He received countless, graphic, specific, and vile death threats over the course of his career and particularly as he approached Babe Ruth’s record. And according to Moore, he kept the worst of the worst in his attic.

Dusty Baker, his friend, told Moore that “Since I was so close to Hank, I had to look at a lot of that stuff. It was terrible, but he was still carrying himself with honor and dignity. He treated white kids and Latin kids as well as he did the black kids. He treated everybody good, regardless.”

There are no words that can do justice to the hate that he received and the way that he dealt with it. Just like there are no words that can really sum up what he meant to the game as a player and to the country as a person.

You’re going to hear a lot about Hank Aaron over the next few days and I’m willing to be that even the biggest Hank Aaron fans are going to learn something new. Maybe it’s something about his career, maybe it’s something about his life, maybe it’s something about his impact on civil rights and the fight for equality.

But I guarantee you will learn something about him that you didn’t already know, because that’s just how big he was, how great he was, and how many different areas of American life that he impacted.

Truthfully, I can't fully do justice to him here.

If you haven’t already, I suggest you read Howard Bryant’s book “The Last Hero: A life of Henry Aaron.” Do that and you will learn so much about Aaron the man, his role in baseball, his role in society, and how he felt about that. Because it wasn’t simple and it definitely wasn’t always comfortable.

Aaron was one of the greatest baseball players to ever walk the earth. But as he told the AJC back in 2006 that “I would just want to be remembered as somebody who just tried to be fair with people.”

He was that, and he was so much more.