The Hammer turned 75 today.
Henry Aaron, the man who is baseball’s home run king, is still alive.
And still, perhaps our most unsung sports hero.
Hank Aaron was born in Mobile, Alabama. Overcoming poverty and racism with dignity and hard work, he followed the trail blazed by Jackie Robinson to Major League Baseball.
Without batting gloves or an elbow pad, without performance enhancing drugs, against undiluted pitching staffs that included Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal, playing the outfield everyday, he hit 755 home runs in 23 seasons.
Eighteen seasons with 30 or more home runs, eight with forty or more, and four seasons in which he hit his beautifully symmetrical retired number, 44.
As he closed in on Babe Ruth’s home run record of 714, Aaron received racist hate mail from around the country. Racist jeers in every park at every at bat. He quietly had to maintain security protection from the many death threats he received.
Growing up in Atlanta, I had the honor of watching him play in person. I still have grass clippings I pulled from the left field of Fulton County Stadium. The same left field over which his 715th homer flew. I pulled those clippings on Opening Night for the new Turner Field. There was a party on the field at the old park across the street. The folks at the party were focused on the bar and each other. I headed for the outfield where my hero had lived for so many years.
"As far as I'm concerned, (Hank) Aaron is the best ball player of my era. He is to baseball of the last 15 years what Joe DiMaggio was before him. He's never received the credit he's due." - Mickey Mantle
Hank was and is what we should all strive to be. Real. Honest. Unselfish. Concerned about the good of the game more than the good of himself. Competitive. Team player. A gentleman. A role model. An inspiration. Let his actions do the talking. Unchanged by his success or his fame. Or, the lack of appreciation he is due.
Happy birthday, Mr. Aaron. Happy birthday to a good and righteous king.