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."
I was fortunate to meet Hank Aaron several times. He was not only a great athlete but a truly nice man. I'm so sorry to see him pass. He was a legend not only because of what he did in the sport but what he did for the sport. The baseball and sporting world will miss him greatly. pic.twitter.com/hAGi2fyhUZ
— Jack Nicklaus (@jacknicklaus) January 23, 2021
We all loved this man
Love to his entire family pic.twitter.com/NOLCjgFZ2s
— Adam Sandler (@AdamSandler) January 23, 2021
Saddened to hear about Hank Aaron. He meant so much more to baseball and the country than just being one of the game's top home run hitters. He truly was a very special man.
— Vin Scully (@TheVinScully) January 22, 2021
Henry Aaron was pure class ! I am really sad he passed away !
— Jeff Nelson (@jeffnc1) January 22, 2021
— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) January 22, 2021
RIP Hammerin’ Hank. I first met Hank Aaron in 1982 in Savannah when he was the director of the Braves Minor Leagues. Our paths crossed many times both in baseball and wrestling. He was truly an American Hero. This is from 1993 with Sting, Bill Watts, Hank and me. pic.twitter.com/MAPVLSquMP
— Tony Schiavone (@tonyschiavone24) January 23, 2021
Willie Horton on the legacy of his mentor, Hank Aaron. pic.twitter.com/Ax7qFnBYvv
— Detroit Tigers (@tigers) January 22, 2021
Farewell to Hank Aaron, a stunning athlete, a classy gentleman, and a path breaker. God bless you, sir.
— Sheldon Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse) January 23, 2021
"What a marvelous moment for the country & the world.
A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol."
Vin Scully 4-8-74 pic.twitter.com/4tNNm9NZYA
— Justice, Mercy, Faith, & LOVE ☮️✝️💟ڹ (@NihilisticGOP) January 22, 2021
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.
I was ten years old when Hank Aaron eclipsed Babe Ruth’s record. It’s my earliest baseball memory. But mostly I will remember him as a pioneer for civil rights. #RIPHankAaron pic.twitter.com/YRmtINrB3s
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) January 23, 2021
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.
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