Long-time Major League Baseball home-run king Hank Aaron was remembered for his character and dignity, as well as his sporting achievements following his death on Friday.
He was 86.
Aaron shrugged off racism and death threats and in 1974 passed the record 714 homers hit by Babe Ruth, finishing on 755 for his career and becoming a pioneer in front-office opportunities for black players after their careers.
“Hank Aaron was one of the best baseball players we’ve ever seen and one of the strongest people I’ve ever met,” former US president Barack Obama said. “Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to the Aaron family and everyone who was inspired by this unassuming man and his towering example.”
Inspired by a meeting as a youth with Jackie Robinson, MLB’s first black player, Aaron turned his talents to baseball and became an iconic sportsman while greeting intolerance with class and grace.
US President Joe Biden has fond memories of watching Aaron hit home runs.
“I knew I was watching someone special,” Biden said. “With courage and dignity, he eclipsed the most hallowed record in sports while absorbing vengeance that would have broken most people, but he was unbreakable.”
Aaron played 23 MLB seasons from 1954 to 1976, starting with the Milwaukee Braves, moving with them to Atlanta in 1966, leaving for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1975 and retiring in 1976.
Aaron joined the Braves as an executive, became vice president of player development and a senior vice president for the club in 1980.
“We are absolutely devastated by the passing of our beloved Hank,” Braves chairman Terry McGuirk said. “Henry Louis Aaron wasn’t just our icon, but one across Major League Baseball and around the world.”
Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, where his steadfastness and courage in the face of death threats made him elite even among baseball immortals.
“Hank Aaron is near the top of everyone’s list of all-time great players,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said. “His monumental achievements as a player were surpassed only by his dignity and integrity as a person.”
Former Braves star Chipper Jones said: “I can’t imagine what Hank Aaron went through in his lifetime. He had every right to be angry or militant ... but never was. He spread his grace on everything and every one he came in contact with.”
Aaron’s MLB career homer record stood for 33 years until broken by drugs-tainted San Francisco slugger Barry Bonds, who finished on 762 in 2007.
A surprise congratulatory video from Aaron played after Bonds set the new mark.
Other retired sluggers paid tribute to Aaron.
Boston Red Sox legend David Ortiz wrote on Twitter that he was “a legend on and off the ball field ... the best to ever do it.”
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