KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The death of Henry Aaron, 86, leaves a tremendous void at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. The man known as “Hammerin’ Hank” was one of best sluggers in Major League Baseball history and a civil rights icon.
Aaron is being remembered just as much for the way he handled himself off the field. Aaron started his baseball career with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues.
He only played there one season before he was snapped up by the Boston Braves, part of a wave of Negro Leagues players who made an immediate superstar impact in Major League Baseball.
But it was when he hit his 715th home run in 1974, which eclipsed Babe Ruth’s record, that also turned him into a civil rights icon. There were a lot of white baseball fans who did not want to see that record broken, and Aaron endured years of hate and death threats afterwards.
“It took him 25 years before he could finally exhale and celebrate what many thought was the greatest sports accomplishment of all time, because of the hate and vitriol that was targeted to him,” said Bob Kendrick, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president.
“His family was in hiding; he was getting mountains of death threats at that time. You can’t take these death threats idly, because he had already seen key figures like Martin Luther King assassinated. John F. Kennedy assassinated. Malcolm X assassinated.”
Aaron first toured the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in 1999 as part of the 25th anniversary of his record-breaking home run.
He did not allow the years of hate directed toward him to prevent him from becoming a successful businessman and he constantly worked for achieving equality for all citizens.
Kendrick calls Aaron one of the most underrated players in the baseball hall of fame. If you take away his 755 home runs, he still has more than 3,000 hits and holds the all-time record for runs batted in. Standing at 2,297, it’s a record Kendrick believes may never be broken.