The crowd grew restless as Hank Aaron stepped up to the plate at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. Ignoring the jeers in the stands, he took a firm grip on his bat as Los Angeles Dodgers’ Al Downing threw the fourth inning pitch.
The pitch changed his life and led to his 715th home run, bestowing him as the new home king from Babe Ruth.
But “Hammerin’ Hank” was more than just the one-time home-run king, he was a man who never missed an opportunity to lead and to make a difference both on the field and off.
In his final days before his passing from natural causes on Jan. 22, Aaron joined with other civil rights activists in spreading the word of COVID-19 vaccinations to Black communities.
“I feel quite proud of myself for doing something like this,” Aaron said in an article with The Associated Press, hoping to inspire Black Americans to participate. “It’s just a small thing that can help zillions of people in this country.”
Throughout his life, he had to endure the challenges of being an impoverished Black man born in the segregated part of Alabama while maintaining grace and dignity.
Former President George W. Bush said in a statement that the Hammer is not a person who expected to have things handed down to him.
“He worked to become one of the greatest baseball players of all time,” Bush said. “Hank never let the hatred consume him.”
During his career, he had experienced racism and death threats as he was making his journey to break one of America’s highly respected records, instances in which acting upon could have him tossed out of the game for good.
With his inspiration, other sports figures such as the Los Angeles Lakers’ Lebron James and former San Francisco 49’ers’ Colin Kapernick have used their platform to raise awareness on social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter and giving people the courage to advocate their message by kneeling during the National Anthem.
As the Hammer paced around the bases, achieving his milestone homer, Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully called out one of baseball’s greatest moments.
“A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol,” Scully said. “What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world.”
Editor’s note: Featured image is Henry “Hank” Aaron with Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver. Courtesy photo