So often in life we define a person in a sentence or a phase. In baseball, a number. Instinctively Henry “Hank” Aaron’s is defined as “Home Run King” or “755” but there is so much more to his legacy than baseballs clearing fences and “I Had A Hammer” does a tremendous job or bringing his true legacy to life.
Aaron himself penned this novel along with Lonnie Wheeler and on many occasions you can feel the sincerity, the frustration, the rage, and the joy Aaron experienced as he relived his life. This is his story, told his way. He takes you into the batter’s box with him but also into the segregated South and ultimately on the trip around the bases when he hit home run 715 and broke Babe Ruth’s hallowed record.
Jackie Robinson gets acclaim for integrating the modern major leagues and justifiably so. But Aaron had the thankless task of integrating the South Atlantic League. Far away from the spotlight and the only black man on his team, he traveled through Georgia, Florida and Texas while trying to climb his way from the Negro Leagues to the big time. This aspect of his life is so often overlooked due to the magic of 755.
Aaron was a part of a generation that lived through so many chapters of American history. The Great Depression, the Negro Leagues, integration, segregation, the Civil Rights movement, there are so many pieces to Aaron’s life beyond baseball.
But the baseball part was pretty good too. A 23 year run in which he claimed the most hallowed record in American sports and vaulted into the Hall of Fame. And that is all here in the book.
If you want to truly “meet” Hank Aaron this is a great way to do so. And after reading this book many things other than “755” should pop in your head when you hear his name.
Old Hank was too good to die in 2020. A true legend. One of the best ever, if not the best. A model of consistency
In the late 50’s Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews along with Warren Spahn led the Braves to back to back World Series in ’57 & ’58 and people learned who he was, but with Stan in STL still going strong and Willie Mays and later Clemente Hank was not the top draw even though his numbers were almost the same every year for 15 years. He never complained that the spotlight was not on him, but opposing pitchers knew who he was. By the late 60’s it was being written that he had a chance at breaking Babe Ruth’s record and then the spotlight grew bigger every season until the record. The record broke against Gentleman Al Downing and it really was mind blowing to be listening to the historic 715 with Vinnie calling the shot. Aaron himself was a gentleman and a deservingly proud man and as years past he was more hero than the Black Guy that broke the HR record. Years later as steroids changed Baseball unlike anything that had come before there was at lot of upset fans that just as a generation before did not want Hank to break the record did not want Barry Bonds to break Aarons record. When as a kid in the early 60’s we would talk about who better Aaron or Mays or Mantle. From the back of the baseball cards we would rattle of the numbers as we all had our favorites.
My favorite thing that I heard Hank talk about years ago was not to ban the steroid users and their records from the Hall of Fame, but to put them in their own wing of the Hall. He did not like that steroids fueled all the records broke, but he was gracious with an alternative.
I used to live in Atlanta, where there’s a famous bar called Manual’s Tavern, whose walls are full of memorabilia. One is a very old, aerial shot of an old timey baseball game. If memory serves, Jackie Robinson is playing in the game below, against the Atlanta Crackers if you can believe that. What’s striking is the crowd, all white in the actual stands, and then at least twice as many black people on rooftops surrounding the park. Most of them would have been too far away to see anything, but they were there. It’s one of those images that tell you everything about the evil of segregation.
PBS Newshour had a nice tribute to him tonight and the fight he struggled for in his life.
Another living legend passes into history.
Added this to my 200+ reading list on GoodReads. Lol.
Thanks for sharing this Jeff. It makes me want to read the book.
I knew a little about Henry’s growing up in Alabama, but there is alot about his life I would still like to learn — this book would be a good way.
On the subject of racism, it is interesting to think about the current fuss being made about the team nicknames of “Indians” and “Braves,” since when Hank was coming up in the Negro Leagues he played for the Indianapolis Clowns. Now that is a truly distasteful and racist team name. Can you imagine as a black man being told you are playing for the “Clowns?” All the worst Al Jolson Black Face scenes and degrading minstrel stereotypes come to mind. This was the world Henry Aaron lived in.
The courage he had to have in order to deal with what he had to deal with is unfathomable. He’s up there with Jackie in terms of the barriers he helped bring down.
The team name came from their epic displays of shadow ball and the fact they’d have actual clowns between innings. Purely a gimmick. The promoter was selling entertainment. He was the Veek of the Negro Leagues.
I’m sure it steered into stereotypes commonly held by whites, but the name came from within and the target audience was the black community.