Hank Aaron – quiet dignity, quiet strength

A great baseball player passed away yesterday. His name was Henry Aaron, but he went by Hank. He was a very quiet man growing up in the south in the middle of the Jim Crow era. But, arguably he is on a very short list of the greatest baseball players ever.

Rather than bore non-baseball fans with endless statistics indicating how great he was, let me focus on how poorly this African-American was treated as he chased records set by white ball players. He received multiple death threats and family kidnapping threats and was openly called the N word both aloud and within the many letters of vicious hate mail.

Like Jackie Robinson before him, he took all of this with quiet dignity and a heavy dose of quiet strength. Racism and bigotry was dumped on this man like garbage. But, he stood strong.

When he chased the greatest of records for home runs held by the legendary Babe Ruth, the threats were at their worst. Yet, when he broke the record on national TV, he quietly ran the bases. Then, he tipped his cap to the home crowd. Ironically, a teen came out of the stands to circle the bases with him, but he was all about touching all the bases first.

When we think of the white supremacists and nationalists who have crawled out from under the rocks, I think of all the great Black ball players who came before Robinson and Aaron that did not get the chance to play in the Major Leagues. When they were allowed to join, the Major Leagues got better.

To show how racism impacts results, the National League integrated faster than the American League, so when All Star games were played in the late 1950s and 1960s, the National League had an impressive win streak against its annual opponent. Taking this one step further, the Boston Red Sox had an opportunity to sign both Aaron and Willie Mays, arguably the two best ball players, and signed neither because they were Black. The Red Sox had a long dry spell of winning championships.

Hank Aaron received the Medal of Freedom for his success, but also for the manner in which he carried himself. Quiet dignity and strength. He did not boast. He just succeeded when too many did not want him to.

24 thoughts on “Hank Aaron – quiet dignity, quiet strength

  1. Note to Readers II: Hank Aaron was called a five tool player – he could hit for average, hit for power, steal bases, field his position well and throw well. But, a story I read many moons ago is he first learned to hold the bat cross handed, which gave him control, but took away his power. When coaches finally showed him the proper way, he was even better. It was noted that his power came from very strong forearms, maybe due to holding the bat the wrong way for so long.

  2. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    I had planned to write a tribute post to baseball’s legendary Henry (Hank) Aaron this afternoon, but as often happens when great minds think alike, Keith was on the same page, only he beat me to the punch and did it every bit as well as I could have. Thank you, Keith, for this lovely tribute to a man who was not only a great baseball player, but also a great human being.

  3. Hank Aaron was definitely a great baseball player, and humanist, and he has Jackie Robinson to thank for breaking the colour barrier. But baseball was not the first major sport to have persons of color involved in the sport.
    In fact, when thoroughbred horse racing was brought to America, the sport was dominated by black jockeys and trainers. Why was that? Two things, the sport was brought to America by white plantation owners, and the sport was dangerous, jockeys were made to virtually kill each other in the hunt for the winner’s circle. No sane white person would risk his life, so black slaves were forced to ride. Even training horse was dangerous in those days, so that job fell on slaves too. So, there is no record of the first black jockey.
    However, after emancipation, black horsemen headed north to practice their profession in the north, only to find they were not wanted in the land of the free. Still, in the first ever running of the Kentucky Derby, 1875, , the gold standard of racing in the USA (not Canada, and certainly not Britain) 13 of 15 jockeys were black.
    The American jockey holding the record for the highest percentage of winning rides is Isaac Burns Murphy, a black man, who unofficially won between 34.5 to 44% of his races, including 3 of 11 Kentucky Derbiys. He died at a young age for jockeys, only 35 years old.
    Just in case you think there is no racism in the Sport of Kings, think again. Since 1922, only 2 black jockeys (at the time my information was recorded) have ridden in the Kentucky Derby. That is an abysmal piece of information.
    In modern times, horse racing rider ranks in North America are dominated not by whites, but by Hispanics.
    For many years, the winningest jockey in thoroughbred horse
    racing was Johnny Longden, an English-born Canadian raised in Taber, Alberta. He won 6032 races in his career, including the 1943 Triple Crown of racing on Count Fleet, deemed to be one of the most dominant horses that ever lived.

    I apologize, Keith, for taking up so much space on your comment area, but I kept finding more things to write about.

    • The first I heard of it being the “Sport of Kings” was a week or so ago when the New York association fired out a trainer for giving one of his horses a name to deliberately insult a (Black) announcer. (I don’t know why that name was bad, and don’t want to look it up and find out why. He did it with open malicious intent, and got suppressed for it. Good enough.)

      • Good to hear. Racist voices need to be silenced, though I would prefer it be done by education. Some people, though, don’t want to learn…

      • Some people, like him, are hostile to being asked to consider otherwise. He was reported (NYDN) as being an old offender, so they decided he wasn’t worth it after this last display.

      • Yeah, I thought so too. I have no idea what made me explore the idea, except that I and my partner bought a thoroughbred filly in 2003. She won 8 races for us, but most of the time she was more interested in crowd-watching than running.
        Her life as a broodmare has been unfortunate. Her first baby, a colt, died within a month of its birth. Her second baby, a filly, was born with a malformed leg. Her third baby, another filly, just turned two and is being trained to run this year, if all goes well. Her first granddaugther just turned one, and is already the size of her aunt.
        In order from the top, the broodmare was named Halory Clanton before we purchased her. Once named you cannot change the name of a race horse. Her son would have been named Hal2thechef, had he survived. The first daughter, and now mother in her own right, is Tricksy T Canton. The second daughter is Halory’s Comet. The granddaughter will be Halory’s Cupid. Future children, if any, will be named after we meet them.
        Yes, Halory Clanton was named for Hillary Clinton, but part of her sire’s name was Halory, thus the spelling changes. The I’s were changed to a’s.
        Her son would have been named after the presidential slogan, Hail to the Chief, but in honour of her mother the i’s would have been removed.
        Tricksy T Canton was named partly for her grandfather, Phone Trick, and partly for an old friend, Trixi, and, because she was always playing tricks on her mother, a horsey peek-a-boo. It was supposed to be TricksyTrixiClanton, but that was one character too long, so the middle named was shortened to a T. Halory’s Comet was, of course, a play on Halley’s Comet because we wanted a name is built for speed. Halory’s Cupid was Comet’s harness partner in Santa’s team of reindeer. They all make a weird kind of sense to us.
        If Halory’s Comet makes it to the races this year I will keep everyone posted on her progress. She is named to be a champion, so I hope she becomes one.

      • FC, related subject, but when countries and cultures subjugate women, they are not only treating them poorly, they are hurting their economies. As Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn wrote in “Half the Sky,” they are competing in a world with only 1/2 of its intellectual capital. Keith

  4. I remember the countdown to the record. Great anticipation ruled my youth. I actively rooted for him to break it. I argued with a few friends who rooted against him. I was the one who ended up happy.

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