He is the one man that Muhammad Ali said he idolized “more than myself.” He became known to the world as “Hammerin’ Hank.”
Legendary Atlanta Brave and Major League Baseball record holder Hank Aaron died Friday at the age of 86, according to Aaron’s daughter.
His family was so poor they could not afford baseball equipment, so he began honing his baseball skill by hitting bottle caps with sticks.
Aaron had his first major league tryout as a 15-year-old with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949.
Although he did not make that team, he did make an impact and returned to school to get his diploma.
In November 1951, at the age of 17, Aaron began his minor league career with the Indianapolis Clown’s organization of the negro leagues.
In an interview with Channel 2′s Justin Wilfon at his 80th birthday celebration, “Hammerin’ Hank” said his family’s support helped him make his dream come true of playing baseball.
“If it hadn’t been for my brother, my uncle, sharing their love and making me realize that — although I had a dream at that time — but if I keep looking and pursue it, that I could match it,” Aaron said.Full ScreenAutoplay1 of 12Aaron gets a hug from his mother Estella. His dad was there too.
Seven months later, in June 1952, Aaron chose to sign with the Boston Braves over the New York Giants, because the Braves offered $50 more a month.
The Braves had their 21-year-old building block. The Giants missed out on a Hank Aaron, Willie Mays outfield tandem.
Instead, the tandem of the Braves franchise in Bean Town was over. The team moved to Milwaukee in 1953, and one year later, Aaron made the big-league roster.
That first season, Aaron wore No. 5. He switched to No. 44 in 1955. That same year, at age 21, Aaron made the first of his record 21 All-Star selections and his record 25 All-Star appearances.
Aaron won the National League batting title in 1956 and won his only MVP award the following year after hitting 322 and finishing in the top three in all three triple crown batting categories.
He capped his MVP ’57 season by clinching the pennant with a home run in inning 393 in a seven-game World Series victory over the New York Yankees.
The Braves moved to Atlanta in time for the 1966 season, and within two years, Aaron was recording milestones in Georgia.
“Honestly, I was scared coming to a high-profile city like Atlanta,” Aaron told Channel 2 Sports Director Zach Klein. “Knowing that Dr. King was here, Andy Young and some of the other great civil rights leaders that made their home here, and I’m coming from Milwaukee where there was no activity at all … It makes you start thinking about what it is, what can you do, what role you can play. And makes you feel like you kind of shortchanged everybody really, you didn’t do your job.”
Aaron said he knew that Atlanta was becoming the hub for the civil rights movement and said he didn’t think he would become a figure that would emerge out of that movement.
“To be honest with you, I felt a little ashamed of myself, because I was so far back in the sticks, in the woods, that I didn’t know what was going on. It kind of made me start thinking, realizing that, regardless of what I achieved in life, no matter whether it’s baseball, football, basketball, life, lawyers, whatever it may be, that I still had a role to play,” Aaron said.
Aaron recalls when he finally realized he was now part of a changing world.
“I think it hit me when we played an exhibition game, and I don’t know when, in Macon. I think it hit me when I realized that I had some kind of role that I should be playing. I’m not talking about a baseball role, I’m not talking about somebody going out on the baseball field, someone who had a role to play to help other blacks like myself,” Aaron told Klein.
As Aaron started turning into “Hammerin’ Hank,” he would eventually meet the biggest figure of the civil rights movement – right in the stands.
“I didn’t spend much time with him. I met him here, at the ballpark. Came here with some other friends of his, and I met him then. I didn’t spend as much time as I would have loved to have spend with him. I made that up, of course, by spending a lot of time, and still spending a lot of time, with my brother now, Andy Young. I wish I could have spent a lot of time,” Aaron said.
“I realized he was the voice of a lot of African-Americans around. I realized that he did some things, said some things that you started thinking, you know, if things had been a little different we could have done this, and he was making it a reality. He was making all those things a reality.”
Aaron became the first player in Major League history to record 500 homers and 3,000 hits. He went on to hit 40 or more home runs seven different times, finishing third in the MVP voting six times.
At the age of 37, he hit his career high in home runs, 47 of them and set a new career best in slugging percentage.
At age 39, Aaron recorded his eighth 40-homer season finishing that year with 713 for his career, just one home run shy of Babe Ruth’s major league record.
That offseason, Aaron received numerous death threats and loads of racist letters.