My childhood baseball hero was Hank Aaron. 54 years ago today he played in his first major league baseball game in Milwaukee.
The color line had been broken a few years before but Aaron was to become one of the most important baseball players of all time and a man who courageously helped to break the racial profiles that still attended African-American athletes in this sport.
In his great book, If I Had a Hammer, Aaron relates the story of some of the trials that he faced from white players and fans. He handled it all with real grace and human dignity. But in time he also developed an angry side that came from his pursuit of Babe Ruth’s home run record and the threats upon his life that followed him into the 1970s.
This is why Hank Aaron’s home run record (755) still stands as a much more amazing feat than the new record of Barry Bonds, who treated the game more like it owed him something, at least most of the time. In Aaron’s book you will actually encounter some of the racial experience of his life and time and grow to appreciate what it was like to be black and chasing a revered white man’s record in the great American game.
I first met Hank Aaron as a twelve year old boy. I was in sheer awe of him. He was kind and interacted with me as a real person, not just a kid in the way.
I later spoke to him on the
radio, from my church study after Anita called and told me to turn on WGN radio, when his book came out and he was doing a tour that brought him to Chicago. I never see him, even to this day, that I am not grateful that he became a star in this great game of baseball. He deserved it if anyone did. Hank Aaron was not only a great baseball player, one of the best, but was and still is a great person, period. That is much more than what you can say about many of the modern stars of the game, black or white.
Thanks Hank. I will always love you man.
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