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Hank Aaron, baseball legend who broke Babe Ruth’s Major League home run record, dies at age 86 

Henry ‘Hank’ Aaron, the one-time Negro League outfielder who went on to break Babe Ruth’s Major League home run record in the face of rampant racism, has died at 86.

A cause of death has not been reported, but the team confirmed that he died in his sleep. 

‘We are absolutely devastated by the passing of our beloved Hank,’ Atlanta Braves chairman Terry McGuirk said in a statement. ‘He was a beacon for our organization first as a player, then with player development, and always with our community efforts. His incredible talent and resolve helped him achieve the highest accomplishments, yet he never lost his humble nature.’

Aaron made his last public appearance just 2 1/2 weeks ago, when he received the COVID-19 vaccine. He said he wanted to help spread the to Black Americans that the vaccine was safe. 

Born in Mobile, Alabama in 1934, Aaron played for the Negro Leagues’ Indianapolis Clowns in 1952 before being discovered by the Boston Braves, who purchased his contract for $10,000.

The deal would go down in history as one of baseball’s greatest bargains (he turned down a similar offer from the New York Giants that would have paired him in an outfield with fellow Hall of Fame Willie Mays). Aaron quickly became one of the game’s most feared hitters and durable stars.

Without ever reaching the 50-home run mark in any single season, Aaron’s consistency allowed him to surpass Ruth with his 715th home run as a member of the Atlanta Braves in 1974.

However, his pursuit of baseball’s most cherished record was marred by a racist hate mail campaign, which included many death threats from anonymous senders.

‘These people feel this is going to be a weak part of me,’ Aaron said in response to the hate mail he received in 1974. ‘They think they’ll upset me with their words or their shouts, that they’ll get me where I can’t do the job. This won’t happen. I don’t like it, but I always do my best. This only makes me more determined.’

Aaron, who was being watched by armed undercover security guards, had a nervous moment following his record-breaking home run on April 8, 1974 when two white fans ran onto the field and approached him as he rounded the bases.

Fortunately, the two men turned out to be fans who simply wanted to shake the baseball legend’s hand.

‘What a marvelous moment for baseball,’ Dodgers announcer Vin Scully said at the time. ‘What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world.

‘A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking the record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron.’

Addressing fans over the Fulton County Stadium PA system, Aaron famously reacted to his accomplishment by saying: ‘I just thank God it’s all over.’

A 25-time All-Star, Aaron won his only World Series and National League MVP award in 1957 as a member of the Milwaukee Braves, and would later be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982.

Following a two-year stint with the Milwaukee Brewers, Aaron retired in 1976 with 755 home runs – a mark that was surprised by San Francisco Giants outfielder and accused steroids user Barry Bonds in 2007. After retiring in 1976, Aaron became a revered, almost mythical figure, even though he never pursued the spotlight.

In 2001, Aaron received the Presidential Citizens Medal from then-President Bill Clinton, and a year later he was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President George W. Bush.

He was thrilled when the U.S. elected its first African-American president, Barack Obama, in 2008. Former President Bill Clinton credited Aaron with helping carve a path of racial tolerance that made Obama´s victory possible.

‘We’re a different country now,’ Clinton said at a 75th birthday celebration for Aaron. ‘You’ve given us far more than we’ll ever give you.’

Aaron was married twice, first to Barbara Lucas in 1953 and then to Billye Williams in 1973. In addition to Williams’s daughter Ceci, whom he adopted, Aaron also had four children with Lucas: Dorinda, twins Lary and Gary, who died shortly after his birth, Hank Jr., and Gaile.

Sports icons and political figures alike soon took to Twitter to remember the baseball legend.  

David Ortiz said: ‘A legend on and off the ball field… the best to ever do it… RIP Mr Hank Aaron #44’  

‘America lost an extraordinary soul in @HenryLouisAaron,’ said Stacey Abrams, sharing a photo with the baseball legend. ‘On the field, he brought power + purpose. In the community, Hank Aaron invested in progress, in people & in dreams. May his wife, Billye, his family and friends find peace in their sorrow, knowing how deeply he was loved.’

Magic Johnson stated: ‘Rest in Peace to American hero, icon, and Hall of Famer Hank Aaron. I still remember where I was back in the day when he set the record, at that time, to become the home run all time leader. While a legendary athlete, Hank Aaron was also an extraordinary businessman…’   

‘I first worked with Hank Aaron in a little movie called The Incredible Ida Early,’ actress Jackee Harry shared, posting a throwback photo on set for the 1987 flick. ‘He captivated us all with his kindness and grace. What a legend. He’ll be missed.’

Source: Daily Mail |World News

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