“Hammer'' or “Hammerin’ Hank” - call him what you wish - Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron was inarguably one of the most accomplished and gifted professional baseball players in American history. Forever known as the man who broke numerous records like Stan Musial’s for total bases and Babe Ruth’s home run record, the latter leaving him prone to racist hate mail and death threats, Aaron’s entrance into Major League Baseball was not as storied as Jackie Robinson’s though it was as compelling with a journey beginning with the Negro Leagues to the minor leagues and finally to his first major league team, the Milwaukee Braves.
Aaron was born on February 5, 1934, and raised in the Toulminville neighborhood of Mobile, AL. He was the third of eight children. His parents were Estella (nee Pritchett) and Herbert Aaron,Sr., a tavern owner and a dry dock boilermaker's assistant. He demonstrated a strong love for, and ability in, baseball and football, preferring sports over his studies. His younger brother Tommie Aaron was also a MLB player, and the two hold the distinction of being the first sibling teammates in a League Championship Series, and they held the record for most career home runs by a pair of siblings.
On April 13, 1954, Aaron made his major league debut with the Milwaukee Braves after a brief stint in their farm club and spring training session. A career was born that day when Aaron was hitless in five at-bats against the Cincinnati Reds' left-hander Joe Nuxhall. A force to be reckoned with, throughout his career, players on opposing teams like Sal Maglie developed pitching strategies to throw off Aaron at bat.
In his prime, Aaron received special honor from the U.S. Postal Service for receiving more mail (930,000 pieces) than any person, excluding politicians. Cartoonist Charles Schulz celebrated him in a series ofPeanuts comic strips. On August 1, 1982, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Aaron was awarded the Spingarn Medal in 1976, from the NAACP. In 2011, President of Princeton University Shirley M. Tilghman awarded an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree to Hank Aaron.
Aaron was also a successful businessman. At varying times, he owned fast food franchises (Arby’s, Church’s, Popeye’s). In all, Aaron was the owner of five automobile dealerships and four restaurant brands. He leveraged his business success to help other African Americans in business and serve poor communities with his profits and partnerships, such as Habitat for Humanity.
The man who smashed records, championed civil rights and served his people leaves behind his wife, Billye Williams, four children from his first marriage; an adopted stepdaughter, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.