By Paul Newberry
ATLANTA ((AP) — His name is all over the baseball record book and, indeed, Hank Aaron could do it all.
Sure, he’s remembered mostly for dethroning the Babe to become baseball’s home run king on the way to 755, but don’t forget about the .300 average, or the graceful way he fielded his position, or the deceiving speed he showed on the basepaths.
Yet, when talking about the true measure of the man, there was far more to “Hammerin’ Hank” than his brilliance between the lines.
Exuding grace and dignity, Aaron spoke bluntly but never bitterly on the many hardships thrown his way — from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the ugly, racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records.
He wasn’t hesitant about speaking out on the issues of the day, whether it was bemoaning the lack of Blacks in management positions, or lobbying against putting Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame, or calling on those involved in the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal to be tossed from the game for good.
“He never missed an opportunity to lead,” former President Barack Obama said, describing Aaron as an “unassuming man” who set a “towering example.”
Right up to his final days, the Hammer was making a difference.
Just 2 1/2 weeks before his death Friday at age 86, Aaron joined civil rights icons to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. He wanted to spread the word to the Black community that the shots were safe in the midst of a devastating pandemic.
“I feel quite proud of myself for doing something like this,” Aaron said. “It’s just a small thing that can help zillions of people in this country.”
The Atlanta Braves, Aaron’s longtime team, said he died in his sleep. No cause was given.
The Hammer set a wide array of career hitting records during a 23-year career spent mostly with the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves, including RBIs, extra-base hits and total bases.