Hank Aaron, Beloved Baseball Legend And Former Home Run King, Dead At 86
By Jason Hall
January 22, 2021
One of the game of baseball's most important and beloved players has passed away.
Aaron spent the majority of his MLB career with the Braves organization, both in Milwaukee (1954-65) and during its first nine seasons in Atlanta (1966-75) before spending his final two seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers (1975-76.)
"We are absolutely devastated by the passing of our beloved Hank," Atlanta Braves chairman Terry McGuirk said in a statement shared to ESPN. "He was a beacon for our organization first as a player, then with player development, and always with our community efforts. His incredible talent and resolve helped him achieve the highest accomplishments, yet he never lost his humble nature. Henry Louis Aaron wasn't just our icon, but one across Major League Baseball and around the world. His success on the diamond was matched only by his business accomplishments off the field and capped by his extraordinary philanthropic efforts.
During that span, "Hammerin' Hank" hit 755 career home runs, which included breaking Babe Ruth's previous record of 713 on April 8, 1974, and stood as the MLB record for 33 years, before being surpassed by Barry Bonds in 2007. Aaron still holds the MLB record for 2,297 RBIs and 6,856 total bases.
Aaron, who had previously made brief appearances in the Negro Leagues and Minor Leagues, made his MLB debut in 1954 at the age of 20 and finished fourth in the rookie of the year voting, recording a .280 average with 13 home runs and 69 RBIs. By his fourth season, the Mobile, Alabama native hit 44 home runs and 132 RBI, winning the 1957 MVP award and leading the Braves to a World Series championship.
Aaron was a 25-time All-Star (1955-75), a three-time Gold Glove Award winner (1958-60), a two time National League batting champion (1956, 1959), a four-time NL home run leader (1957, 1963, 1966 and 1967) and four-time NL RBI leader (1957, 1960, 1963, 1966.)
Off the field, Aaron was a civil rights activist, having dealt with numerous inequalities during the early years of his life and playing career. The Mobile native wasn't allowed to play high school baseball in his hometown because only white students had teams and also experienced racial backlash during the leadup to passing Ruth's home run record, which included threats made by individuals who didn't want to see a Black man break the record.
"This is a considerable loss for the entire city of Atlanta," Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in a statement obtained by ESPN. "While the world knew him as 'Hammering Hank Aaron' because of his incredible, record-setting baseball career, he was a cornerstone of our village, graciously and freely joining Mrs. Aaron in giving their presence and resources toward making our city a better place. As an adopted son of Atlanta, Mr. Aaron was part of the fabric that helped place Atlanta on the world stage. Our gratitude, thoughts and prayers are with the Aaron family."
Aaron held front office roles for the Braves organization after retirement, remaining an ambassador to the game of baseball throughout the remainder of his life, aiming to help more Black players eventually follow suit and pursue executive roles after their playing careers.
"On the field, Blacks have been able to be super giants," Aaron previously said via ESPN. "But once our playing days are over, this is the end of it and we go back to the back of the bus again."
Aaron was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002.
Photo: Getty Images