Henry Aaron rose up from the depths of Southern poverty to become one of the towering figures in baseball history as well as a bittersweet symbol of both American racial intolerance and triumph.
Hank Aaron, the Atlanta Braves slugger known as Hammerin’ Hank smashed Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1974 by hitting his 715th career homer on his way to 755. But Aaron, who started his career in the segregated Negro Leagues, paid a bitter price for dethroning the white home run king, facing racist threats and abuse every step of the way. “If I was white, all America would be proud of me,” Aaron once said as he was closing in on Ruth. “But I am Black.”
Explore Henry Louis Aaron’s legacy on and off the baseball field with this collection of articles about Hammerin’ Hank, including memories of the night Aaron smashed Ruth’s record, the other staggering statistics he left behind, and reflections on Aaron’s civil rights legacy.
Image by Streeter Lecka / Staff / Getty Images
No matter what happened in America, his greatness still shone.
In 2014, 40 years removed from the remarkable home run record, those who were involved with Aaron’s special day still remember the importance of his becoming the home run king. From the pitcher to the ushers in the stands, those who were there recall that fateful day in Atlanta.
Aaron’s work on the baseball field and being the face of baseball in the Deep South was a form of civil rights activism, showing that achievements can be made if the playing field were equal.
Hank Aaron reached international renown in 1974 by breaking Babe Ruth’s all-time home run mark, but that was just the crowning achievement of a career that spanned 23 years and saw Aaron set all manner of records.
The mistake in trying to classify Hank Aaron as simply some triumphant figure who overcame racism to achieve baseball immortality is that it doesn’t do justice to what he experienced or how he responded.
The reality of the Black athlete in America is to be either disfigured or perverted—sometimes both—to suit the needs of the viewing public.
Take a look back at some of the greatest moments from his career, including the chase for his record-breaking 715th career home run.