Saturday, July 28, 2007

The History of Hank Aaron

The history of Hank Aaron is not 755 homeruns.

Lately, the shattering of Babe Ruth's homerun record by Aaron in '74 and his 755 career homeruns have been the focus of the baseball world due to the impending new record by Barry Bonds. But the history of Hank Aaron should be his life, the strides he made as a black athlete in a racially charged era and the trail he blazed for the players that followed him.

The 755 home runs that Aaron belted in his career were the vehicle that transported him from merely a successful ballplayer to a legend. And the 755 homeruns, whether Aaron asked for it or not, became a platform for awareness, for change and for opportunity.

We have all heard the stories of the 3000 letters that Aaron received nearly every day, most of which came from racists threatening his life and the life of his family if he broke Ruth's record. Rather than cowering in the corner, Aaron became more outspoken. He rose up and forced the issues of blacks in baseball to the forefront of media focus.

In the meantime, his entire life changed. All for a homerun record? Or to make an impact that would be felt far into the future?

Sectret Service agents stood watch over him and he slept at the ballpark because it was the safest place for him. Yet he maintained his strong work-ethic and self-discipline. Aaron never stopped striving for the next level. To some, that might mean breaking a record or winning another Gold Glove or being elected to another all-star team. And Aaron did all that. But in the face of controversy, Aaron demonstrated the tenacity to push through and to keep working to get to an end that would be better for him and for those that walked in his footsteps.
When Aaron's record was set early in the '74 season and as he crossed homeplate, mobbed by teammates and a couple of fans who breached stadium security, he said, "Thank God it's over."

Battle worn, Aaron breathed a sigh of relief and gave his mom a good, long hug. And then his life went on.

After baseball, Aaron worked in player development, continuing to influence baseball's future. He lobbied for the hiring of more minorities in baseball as well. Aaron dedicated much of his time to charitable work and along with his wife established a foundation to help educate underpriviliged youth. He continued down the path onto which he was launched by those 755 homeruns.

Aaron said himself that records are made to be broken. No matter how they are broken... it's inevitable. But let's not let history lie simply in the numbers. The history should be the story behind them. Aaron also said, in this midst of his own homerun chase, "I don't want them to forget Ruth, I just want them to remember me."

So tomorrow or next week or over the next few months of the 2007 season, as new records are born, let's not forget the past that got us to this place and the men who made it possible for us to be here.

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