Baseball Hall of Famer Henry “Hank” Aaron, who once held Major League Baseball’s record for most career homes runs, has died, according to multiple media reports. He was 86.
Aaron, who earned a permanent place in baseball lore when he surpassed Babe Ruth on the all-time home runs list, died on Friday, according to a WSB-TV Atlanta 2 report that sourced his daughter.
Aaron retired in 1976 with 755 home runs, a record that stood until Barry Bonds broke it in 2007.
A native of Mobile, Alabama, Aaron broke into professional baseball in November 1951 when he was signed by the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League. He impressed major league scouts during his three months with the Clowns, leading to competing offers by the then-Boston Braves and the then-New York baseball Giants.
In what turned out to be a history-altering decision, Aaron chose the Braves over the Giants: “I had the Giants’ contract in my hand. But the Braves offered fifty dollars a month more,” he recalled in Donald Honig’s book “Batting Around.”
“That’s the only thing that kept Willie Mays and me from being teammates – fifty dollars,” Aaron said.
The Braves acquired Aaron’s contract from the Clowns for $10,000. Over the next several seasons, Aaron played through the minor league system before ultimately debut with the Braves, who by then had relocated to Milwaukee, in 1954.
Aaron became one of the greatest players of his generation, and in history. He could do it all — hit for power and average, provide solid outfield defense, and fly around the base paths. Alongside first baseman Eddie Mathews, the Braves had one of the best one-two punches in the lineup, propelling them to a World Series championship in 1957; Aaron was also that year’s most valuable player.
Aaron was also one of the most popular players of all time, making the all-star team 21 consecutive seasons in two different leagues between 1955 and 1975. He won three Gold Gloves, compiled 3,771 hits and 2,297 RBI in 23 big league seasons.
But he’ll always be remembered for his home run prowess. He never hit more than 50 home runs in a single season, but by the end of the 1973 campaign for the now-Atlanta Braves, at age 40, Aaron had slugged 713 home runs — one shy of Babe Ruth’s all-time record.
As he neared Ruth’s record, Aaron was bombarded with death threats and hate mail from bigots across the country. One of the game’s great Black stars experienced racism early on his career as a member of the Indianapolis Clowns and breaking into Major League Baseball just seven years after the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.
Undeterred by the prejudice, Aaron was determined to break the record in April 1974. On Opening Day, against the Cincinnati Reds, Aaron belted a home run on his first plate appearance of the season, officially tying Ruth. He would not hit another homer for the remainder of the series.
Finally, on April 8, 1974, in a nationally broadcast game in Atlanta against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Aaron made history, surpassing Ruth with a blast over the left field wall.
Aaron retired after the 1976 season, having finished the last two years of his career with the Milwaukee Brewers in a designated hitter role. His career record of 755 home runs would be shattered by Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants in 2007 — a feat Aaron would live to see and celebrate.
Following his playing career, Aaron would rejoin the Atlanta Braves as an executive and public ambassador. He also owned several car dealerships in the Atlanta area.
Aaron would be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, receiving the second-highest all-time percentage vote total from the Baseball Writers of America. He was named to baseball’s All Century Team in 2000, and the Hank Aaron Award, created in 1999, is awarded to the game’s best hitter each season.
Aaron was married twice and had six children.