'One of the greatest': World pays tribute to Hall of Fame legend

Andrew Reid
·5-min read
Pictured here is baseball Fame of Famer Hank Aaron.
Hank Aaron is regarded as one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Pic: Twitter

The sporting world has been flooding media with tributes to Hank Aaron, following the sad news that the baseball Hall of Famer died at the age of 86.

A quiet and unassuming batter, Aaron once famously broke Babe Ruth's supposedly unbreakable record for most home runs in a career.

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The Atlanta Braves said Aaron died peacefully in his sleep. No cause of death was given.

Aaron joined the Braves management to become one of the few African-Americans in a baseball executive position after retiring as a player in 1976 with 755 career home runs.

Barry Bonds surpassed that figure in 2007 although many continued to call Aaron the true home run king because of allegations that his successor had used performance-enhancing drugs.

Aaron's own hitting prowess earned him the nickname "Hammerin' Hank" and his power was attributed to nothing but strong wrists.

He was somewhat shy and unassuming and did not have the flair of contemporaries Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle.

Instead, Aaron played with a smooth, under-control style that made the game look so easy that some critics wondered if he was really giving his best.

But Aaron was fuelled by a powerful inner desire as he overcame an impoverished youth and racial hatred to become one of the greatest and most consistent baseball stars of all-time.

He ultimately claimed his rightful place as one of America's most iconic sporting figures, a true national treasure worthy of mention in the same breath with Ruth or Muhammad Ali or Michael Jordan.

Tributes to Aaron poured in from the worlds of sports, entertainment and politics, praising not only his achievements in baseball, but his courage in confronting the racism that dogged him even at the pinnacle of his career.

"He grew up poor and faced racism as he worked to become one of the greatest baseball players of all time," former President George W. Bush, who presented Aaron with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002, said in a statement.

"Hank never let the hatred he faced consume him."

Aaron famously broke Babe Ruth’s record

Aaron played 23 major league seasons - the first 21 for the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves and the final two for the Milwaukee Brewers - and appeared in a record-breaking 25 All-Star games.

But he will be remembered for one swing above all others.

On April 8, 1974, before a sellout crowd at Atlanta Stadium and a national television audience, Aaron broke Ruth's home run record with number 715 off Al Downing, of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In the run-up to breaking the record, millions of fans cheered him - but others jeered and some went even further.

Bodyguards were assigned in 1973 after Aaron and his family became the targets of death threats and other harassment from racists who did not want a Black man to break such a sacrosanct record.

Aaron sometimes found himself unable to stay in the same hotels or eat in the same restaurants as his white teammates, some of whom even ostracised him.

Aaron said he kept some of the hate mail he received to remind him of the reality of racism.

He was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, with his profile on the hall's website noting that boxing legend Ali called Aaron "the only man I idolise more than myself."

The modest champion, though, just shrugged typically after the induction: "I hope they'll say Hank Aaron was a complete ball player who hit some home runs and helped his team."

He did that - but much, much more.

with AAP

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