Baseball legend Hank Aaron, whose 755 career home runs surpassed Babe Ruth’s 714 to stand as the MLB record for more than three decades, has died. He was 86.
Born into poverty in Mobile, Alabama, Aaron began his baseball career in the Negro American League with the Indianapolis Clowns, during a time when major league teams were still being integrated. An outfielder with a "hammerin'" swing, Aaron went on to play 21 seasons of his career with the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves, and finished with the Milwaukee Brewers in the ‘75-’76 season.
“We are absolutely devastated by the passing of our beloved Hank. He was a beacon for our organization first as a player, then with player development, and always with our community efforts," Braves Chairman Terry McGuirk said Friday in a statement.
"His incredible talent and resolve helped him achieve the highest accomplishments, yet he never lost his humble nature. Henry Louis Aaron wasn’t just our icon, but one across Major League Baseball and around the world. His success on the diamond was matched only by his business accomplishments off the field and capped by his extraordinary philanthropic efforts."
Aaron spoke in interviews about the brutal racism, including hate mail and death threats, he endured as a Black player in the Civil Rights Era aiming to surpass Babe Ruth's record for career home runs.
“There was no denying the serious racial overtones surrounding Aaron's pursuit of Ruth's record,” the Braves said in a statement. “As he approached it, there was such tension among his Black Braves teammates that they joked about not sitting beside him in the dugout for fear an assassin would shoot the wrong player.”
Aaron was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982. According to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Muhammad Ali once called Hank Aaron, "the only man I idolize more than myself.”
Aaron received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002, the Braves said.
“Long after he’d played his final game, remained an outspoken advocate of civil rights, telling his own story eloquently, and at times, bluntly.”
Aaron is survived by his wife Billye, their children Gaile, Hank, Jr., Lary, Dorinda and Ceci and his grandchildren, the Braves said.