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A Tribute to Hank Aaron: May The Hammer Live Forever

Image from SI.com
Jay Jaffe
April 8 2014

It’s been a tough month for the Atlanta Braves family. Sad news continues to sweep through the Major League Baseball fraternity as legend, and authentic home run king, Hank Aaron has transitioned to the field of dreams.

The news of Aaron’s passing proceeds that of two other former Braves legends, Phil “Knucksie” Neikro and Don Sutton. Neikro passed a day after Christmas. Sutton departed on Jan. 18.

 Hammer’s Legacy

Aaron was two weeks shy of his 87th birthday. He spent 23 of those years playing professional baseball. “Hammer,” as Aaron was aptly named, for his bear-like hands and swift, powerful swing, played for the Braves franchise for 21 seasons. Aaron joined the team as a 20-year-old in 1954, a year after the team moved from Boston to Milwaukee. Four seasons later, Hammer won his lone MVP award and led the Braves to their first World Series pennant since moving to Wisconsin.

His career numbers are gaudy, absurd and unattainable by most standards. If it hadn’t been for the steroid era, Aaron would likely reside at top of the all-time home run list with no asterisks in sight.

But what Aaron did off the field was just as legendary. The Mobile, Ala. native became a hero for the New South. After becoming the face of the franchise up North, Hammer took the move back to the South in stride. As the civil rights movement prevailed, so did Aaron. He met everyone with grace, despite receiving endless racial slurs and death threats.

When the 21-time All-Star broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, the world seemingly stopped on its axis. An African-American from Alabama, who grew up in the Jim Crow era, had just just shattered a white man’s record that lived for 40 seasons.

His iconic blast literally united races in an instant. Legendary voice, Vin Scully had the call.

My Thoughts

On Friday, one of my dad’s heroes passed away. Heck, Aaron was one of my idols and I never got the pleasure to see him play. That’s how much of an impact Hammer had on the sport; his influence transcends generations.

The closest I ever got to meeting Aaron was being introduced to his buddy, Walter Banks, a long-time Braves employee who has served the Atlanta franchise for 54 years. Banks attended Georgia Tech in his young years and began employment with the Braves during their inaugural year in the South.

The usher spoke with me about Aaron’s presence and how influential the Hall of Famer was on those around him.

On Friday, many others shared the same sentiment.

From a Braves legend:

It’s sad knowing a legend has fallen from Earth. But we can all celebrate knowing that what Aaron did on this planet was not of this world. His passage into the other side is a powerful one. The Hammer certainly left an impression that will live forever, not just in in Cooperstown, but American history as well.

Here are some of Aaron’s most impressive feats on the field:

( ) denotes all-time rank or years played

  • All-Time Total Bases: 6,856 (1st)
  • Hits: 3,771 (3rd)
  • 90+ RBI seasons: 16
  • 100+ RBI seasons: 11
  • Seasons with >1.000 OPS: 5
  • 20 straight seasons with 20+ home runs (1955-1974)
  • BBWA Hall of Fame (1982)
  • With Atlanta: 335 HR, 897 RBI and 91 SB (1966-1974)
  • AND THE TRUE HOME RUN KING !!!!!!!!

Live forever, Mr. 755.

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