The calendar has transitioned to February and that means another set of Black history nods here, on The Book of Juan. In what’s generally supposed to be a happy time celebrating famous people, moments, places, or works of art related to Black folks, I actually start off the 2021 edition on a somber note. A couple of weeks ago, Hank Aaron passed away at the age of 86. That’s where I’ll start. This week’s Black History subject in the Flashback Friday series: Hank Aaron.
How I first came across this Black History subject? I first became familiar with Hank Aaron in February 1994, when I was doing a report on Jackie Robinson. He was one of the players I learned about in my research about the history of baseball.
What it meant to me then? At the time, as a 3rd grader, I only really knew about Ken Griffey, Jr. in terms of great modern players…mostly because he wore earrings and rocked the backwards cap. I knew of Babe Ruth as well because of The Sandlot. I didn’t know that Hank Aaron was the all-time leader in home runs. I didn’t know that he a model of consistency over a Hall of Fame career. I didn’t even know he was from Alabama…or that he played for the nearby Atlanta Braves. When I did learn of his story, he became one of my favorites of all time even though I never got a chance to see him play. When I played organized baseball for the first time, I wanted the #44 jersey because of Aaron. I ended up getting issued #4 and that’s actually been my jersey number preference since.
What it means to me now? I was listening to Mad Dog Unleashed with Chris Russo when I heard the news. Though I’m not a Braves fan or even a fan of Atlanta, I think this is a huge loss for that franchise and that city. In many respects, as we’ve seen in time, Aaron meant a lot to the Braves and to the City of Atlanta. For the sport of baseball, one of its greatest ambassadors is lost. I’ll always remember how gracious he was when Barry Bonds eclipsed him as the all-time leader in home runs. Having held that record for 33 years is still a remarkable feat. What I’ve learned to appreciate most about the life and career of Hank Aaron is his perseverance and consistency. He always preserved through the madness in his personal life concerning racism and was always consistent in his approach. He never allowed it to rattle him. Just the same over his illustrious career, he persevered. He played through pain and a lot of physical toll but he was incredibly consistent. I was looking at his stat logs on Baseball-Reference and he was basically a shoo-in to bat .300, hit 35 homers, and drive in 110 runs while only striking out 70 times. In today’s time, that might get you a unanimous MVP in a single season. For Aaron, it was just business as usual for over 23 years. I guess that’s the approach to take if you want to be 25-time All-Star (consecutively, by the way), a 3-time Gold Glover, a 2-time batting champ, and a 4-time home run and RBI leader…not to mention being the all-time leader in RBIs, bases, and extra-base hits. There will never be another Hammerin’ Hank Aaron. I sincerely hope he enjoys his well-deserved peace.