Without question, my favorite baseball player when I was a child was Hank Aaron. I was just becoming aware of the sport as Aaron was chasing down Babe Ruth’s home run record. I remember having a baseball card that said “Home Run Leaders: Babe Ruth 714. Henry Aaron, 713. Willie Mays 660,” with all three of their pictures on it. I remember TV shows interrupted with special reports to say that Aaron had hit another home run in the fall of 1973. I was fortunate enough to see Aaron hit a home run for the Brewers at Milwaukee County Stadium — it was probably one of the final three or four home runs of his career.
Despite being one of the greatest players of all-time, Aaron has constantly been underrated. Probably because he played in Milwaukee and Atlanta and not New York or Los Angeles. Additionally, he wasn’t flashy, although anyone who thinks Aaron was quiet or shy wasn’t listening to him. He spoke his mind often, but he did so in a way that didn’t call much attention to himself.
I think the general consensus is that while Aaron was a great player, he wasn’t on the same level as Willie Mays. Now you can certainly make the case that Mays was the better player than Aaron and if you made me choose, I’d probably agree that Mays was a tiny bit better. But it’s a lot closer than many may realize.
So anyway, Aaron’s death hit me pretty hard.
I can’t possibly list all of the tributes to Aaron. I’ve got several here and if I missed your favorite, be sure to share it below. Also, I’ve been back on the job for four OTC so far and in three of them, I’ve had to report the death of a Hall of Famer. Coincidence or something more nefarious? I’m hoping it’s just a coincidence. I’d certainly like to be off the obituary beat sometime soon.
Also, I just want to know why Peter, Paul and Mary just didn’t go down to the hardware store if they needed a hammer. They’re not expensive.
- Howard Bryant recalls that Aaron’s impact on the game was about a lot more than home runs.
- Bryant also talks about the Aaron he got to know as he was writing a biography of him.
- Here’s a collection of people from throughout the game and America offering their thoughts on Aaron’s passing.
- Paul Sullivan spoke with Billy Williams and Dusty Baker about the terrible racism that Aaron faced. Both Williams and Baker were close friends of the legend—As a teenager, Williams watched the slightly-older Aaron play in Mobile, AL and Baker was on deck when Aaron hit home run number 715.
- Shalise Manza Young talks about Aaron’s role as an icon of the civil rights movement and the responsibility he felt in following in the footsteps of Jackie Robinson.
- Thomas Boswell and I have one thing in common: both of us had Aaron as our favorite player as a kid. He had the young Aaron and I had the old one. He notes that Aaron’s “greatness and grace” were without peer. Boswell also remembers that Aaron was the only ballplayer he ever got emotional about meeting.
- Michael Baumann notes the tremendous impact Aaron had both on- and off-the-field. There’s a great picture of young Aaron leaving Mobile for the Negro Leagues in 1951 in that piece. Baumann also reminds us of one of Aaron never shied away from trouble. Just six years ago, Aaron remarked that “The bigger difference is back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts,” which led to him receiving another round of hate mail, which he always kept to remind himself of what he was fighting against.
- Speaking of those letters, Henry Grabar talked to Carla Koplin Cohn, the woman who went through all those hate letters that Aaron got and who turned the death threats over to the FBI. Let’s be clear, most of the letters were from fans and Koplin Cohn remembers both the good letters and the bad. When Aaron was chasing Babe Ruth’s record, no one in America got more letters than he did.
- Tim Brown just says Aaron was a hero. But because it’s Tim Brown, he says it really well.
- Mike Lupica also writes that Aaron was a man of tremendous grace.
- Claire Smith talks about Aaron and his connection with Black baseball.
- ESPN has a wonderful collection of photos from Aaron’s life, with an emphasis on the period of the Ruth home run chase.
- Tyler Kepner remembers all the Hall of Fame players we’ve lost in the last 12 months, but notes that even amongst those honored by Cooperstown, there were Hall of Famers and then there was Henry Aaron.
- It’s not enough that Aaron was a tremendous man. He was also a tremendous player. David Schoenfield argues that Aaron was one of the five greatest players of all-time.
- Why was Aaron so great? Neil Paine argues that no one was more consistent than Aaron.
- Zack Kram looks at Aaron’s statistics and has 44 numbers that stand out in Number 44’s career.
- Jayson Stark also has Aaron’s career by the numbers. (The Athletic sub. req.) If you took out all 755 of Aaron’s home runs, he’d still have 3000 hits.
- Dayn Perry argues that the Atlanta Braves should change their name to the “Atlanta Hammers” to honor Aaron. That is a surprisingly good idea.
- On to the sport of today for a while, although we’ll return to Aaron at the end. The Pirates traded Jameson Taillon to the Yankees for four minor leaguers. Taillon missed all of 2020 after Tommy John surgery and the Pirates are planning to replace all their players with unpaid interns for the 2021 season. Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is angry he didn’t think of that first.
- Bradford Doolittle looks at the benefits and risks for the Yankees in acquiring Taillon. (ESPN+ sub. req.) Doolittle thinks the deal has tremendous upside, but worries about the risk the Yankees are taking on.
- Mike Axisa thinks that the Yankees counting on Taillon and Corey Kluber to stay healthy is probably a mistake, especially since this means that Masahiro Tanaka has probably thrown his last pitch for the Bombers.
- The Nationals have signed reliever Brad Hand to a one-year, $10.5 million deal.
- The Padres have re-signed infielderJurickson Profar to a three-year, $21 million deal.
- The Red Sox have signed utility man Enrique Hernandez to a two-year, $14 million deal.
- Buster Olney explains how the Blue Jays were able to sign free agent outfielder George Springer. (ESPN+ sub. req.) Olney also offers his memories of Hank Aaron.
- Pedro Sandoval accepted a minor league deal with the Braves.
- A look at the biggest winners and losers of the off-season. I’m sure the Cubs wouldn’t be on the loser list if this article was written after the Austin Romine signing.
- This really deserves better than to be at the end of a list of Henry Aaron tributes, but Eno Sarris explains what “seam-shifted wake” is (The Athletic sub. req.) and why it can explain why pitchers like Kyle Hendricks (and many others) are so good.
- If you don’t have an Athletic subscription, then Ben Clemens explains why “seam-shifted wake” is going to be the talk of baseball in the near future.
- Ken Rosenthal writes an open letter to Theo Epstein about how to fix the game of baseball. (The Athletic sub. req.)
- Jay Jaffe has the story the last super-consistent Hall-of-Famer to die, pitcher Don Sutton. Again, get me off the obit beat.
- Meghan Montemurro explains how 26-year-old Mike Adams added nearly 10 mph on to his fastball and went from playing in a weekend men’s adult league to getting signed by the Phillies this winter. (The Athletic sub. req.) A great story right out of the movie The Rookie. Before this, Adams only professional experience was one year in the independent Can-Am League. And he was bad there.
- Returning to Aaron, Ashton Edmunds went to the site of home run number 715 to talk to the people who have paid their respects there since his passing.
- And finally, what if Aaron and Mays had been teammates? Anthony Castrovince notes that were it not for $50, they might have both played for the Giants. At least that’s what the legend says. Print the legend.
Here’s to better days ahead, Buster.