On Jan. 22, legendary slugger and Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 86. The Atlanta Braves, Aaron’s longtime team, confirmed his death in a message on social media. The team did not provide any additional details regarding his death.
Playing Major League Baseball for 23 seasons on teams such as the Milwaukee Brewers and Atlanta Braves, Aaron was widely considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time and one of the last major league stars to play for the Negro league.
Born in the Deep South in the 1930s, Aaron faced racial discrimination throughout his childhood. However, the prejudice did not stop there. Throughout his career, Aaron faced extreme racism from baseball fans. As a player for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League, he and his teammates faced bigotry of all kinds. One time, when staying at a hotel in Washington, D.C., staff members broke dishes after all the African American players ate their meals off them. When Aaron joined the minor leagues, he could not stay in the same hotels as his white teammates because of his skin color.
The racial discrimination continued on during his major league career. Until 1974, Babe Ruth held the record for the most home runs, with 714. On the evening of Apr. 8, 1974, Aaron hit his 715th home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers. After this impressive feat, Aaron received countless death threats and messages spewing hatred and outrage at the idea of a black baseball player surpassing a white icon like Babe Ruth. Aaron often had to be checked into hotels under aliases and ushered into baseball stadiums by security to evade violent, racist mobs. Someone once threatened to kidnap his daughter; others planned to shoot him during baseball games.
Despite the constant racism, Aaron prevailed on the field. He was a two-time National League batting champion and earned three Gold Gloves, which recognizes the best infielders and outfielders in baseball. He won the Most Valuable Player award and the World Series with the Milwaukee Braves in 1957. Aaron also held the home run record, with 755 runs, until 2007, when Barry Bonds surpassed that mark (although many suspect Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs during his career.) He still holds several records, with 6,856 total bases and 2,297 runs batted in. These impressive records and his success on the baseball diamond earned him the nickname “Hammerin’ Hank.” In 1982, Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame his first year of eligibility, receiving 97.8 percent approval — the second-highest percentage in baseball history at the time.
Off the baseball field, Aaron became a civil rights activist due to his experiences with racial discrimination and inequalities. In 2002, President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his activism and humanitarian endeavors.
Aaron’s death follows the passing of seven other baseball hall of famers in 2020 and two in 2021. “Hammerin’ Hank’s” legacy and impact will undoubtedly live on forever in baseball history.