The legacy of Hank Aaron


Louis Requena

UNDATED: Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves poses for an action portrait circa 1968. Hank Aaron played for the Atlanta Braves from 1954 to 1954. (Photo by Louis Requena/MLB via Getty Images)

Anthony Malta

It was July 20, 1976 when Hank Aaron hit his last home run, a bomb that soared over the left field wall of Milwaukee’s County Stadium. At the end of the same season, the legend would leave an imprint of his cleats in the dirt of a baseball diamond for a final time. 45 years later on Jan. 22, Hank Aaron peacefully passed away, leaving behind an almost untouchable resume.


Aaron grew up in Alabama during the 1930s and 40s, a time when racism was prevalent in America. By the age of 15, the power hitter tried out for the MLB’s Brooklyn Dodgers and did not earn a spot. 


This led the then high schooler to the Negro Leagues, in which he played for teams like the Mobile Black Bears and Indianapolis Clowns. Aaron was a victim of constant harassment everywhere he went, especially in public places like restaurants and stores. 


The irony of it hit me: here we were in the capital in the land of freedom and equality, and they had to destroy the plates that had touched the forks that had been in the mouths of black men,” Aaron said.“If dogs had eaten off those plates, they’d have washed them.”


Aaron received hundreds of letters full of slurs and death threats, which he kept and looked back on as a reminder of what he had endured. 


The slugger’s success in the Negro Leagues opened up opportunities for him in the MLB, where he played for the Milwuakee Braves ( presently known as the Atlanta Braves) from 1954 until 1975. This was where the legend of Hank Aaron began. 


Boasting a .305 career batting average with over 3700 hits and 755 home runs, Aaron was a 25x All Star, National League MVP, and World Series champion. After his retirement, Aaron would become one of the first African-Americans to hold a senior management position in the MLB as the senior vice president of the Atlanta Braves (relocated from Milwaukee to Atlanta in 1966).


The Hank Aaron award was introduced by the MLB in 1999 to commemorate the top hitter in the American and National Leagues, a position Aaron held for his years of experience. It was the first award conceived by the MLB in 19 years. 


“Hammerin’ Hank” as he was known by other players, sat atop the home run leaders list for 3 decades before Barry Bonds broke his record. Aaron also retired with the third most hits of all time, a feat only surpassed by Pete Rose and Ty Cobb. 


As godly as Hank Aaron was in the world of baseball, and as timeless as he seemed, Aaron sadly died of natural causes at the age of 86. 


“With courage and dignity, [Aaron] eclipsed the most hallowed record in sports while absorbing vengeance that would have broken most people,” President Joe Biden said. “But he was unbreakable.”


Hank Aaron, a man who was brought up to believe he was less than everyone else, defied social expectations. Alongside breaking home run and hit records, Aaron punched another hole through the color barrier in the MLB. He was a generational talent who left a lasting impact not only on the game of baseball, but on the entire world.