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Hall of Famer, former home run king Hank Aaron dies at 86

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Hall of Famer and longtime home run king Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron died Friday morning, his daughter confirmed to WSB-TV in Atlanta. The Atlanta Braves legend was 86.

Aaron, a 25-time All-Star, played in MLB from 1954-76 almost entirely with the Braves organization — first in Milwaukee and then in Atlanta. In 1957 he led the organization to its first World Series title since 1914. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982.

Aaron’s career as home run king

Aaron had his first major-league tryout at the age of 15 with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949, but did not make the team. He started a minor-league career with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues in 1951 at the age of 17.

It was only seven months later, in June 1952, that he signed with the Boston Braves, who offered him more money than other teams. The following season the franchise moved to Milwaukee and Aaron got his first big-league roster call-up in 1954 wearing No. 5. He switched to No. 44 the next year, during which he made his first All-Star appearance.

Aaron famously passed Babe Ruth on the all-time home run leaderboard in 1974 with his 715th shot. He finished his career with 755. It stood for 31 years until Barry Bonds passed him in 2007 and eventually set the mark at 762.

[Related: Tributes pour in for Aaron, a baseball icon]

Aaron is still the game’s all-time leader in RBIs (2,297) and total bases (6,856). He ranks third in career hits (3,771). The outfielder won three Gold Gloves as well as the National League batting title in 1956 and 1959, the 1957 NL MVP award and the 1970 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award for character.

He was the first player in MLB history to reach 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. He was third in MVP voting six different times.

Six Hall of Famers enshrined in Cooperstown died in 2020. The Hall had not lost that many players since seven died in 1972. Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton died Monday at the age of 75.

Hank Aaron in 2019.
Hank Aaron died at the age of 86. (Mark Von Holden/Invision/AP)

Aaron overcame racism to play professional baseball

Aaron, who was born in Mobile, Alabama, in 1934, overcame racism in the Deep South and received death threats while pursuing Babe Ruth’s record. After he finished the 1973 season one home run short of Ruth’s record he received a high number of threats and racist letters. Many people were angry at the time that a Black player would pass Ruth on the list.

The FBI investigated the threats, as well as kidnapping plots against his children. He had to be accompanied by an armed guard for his safety. He said the threats forced him to constantly scan crowds after he retired, miss his children’s graduations, and he couldn’t open his mail for two or three years afterward.

Aaron became heavily involved in civil rights causes during and after his career. When the Braves organization moved to Atlanta ahead of the 1966 season, Aaron said he started realizing he had a role to play in the growing social justice movement centralized in the city.

“Honestly, I was scared coming to a high-profile city like Atlanta,” Aaron said of the time, via WSB-TV. “Knowing that Dr. [Martin Luther] King was here, Andy Young and some of the other great civil rights leaders that made their home here, and I’m coming from Milwaukee where there was no activity at all ... It makes you start thinking about what it is, what can you do, what role you can play. And makes you feel like you kind of shortchanged everybody really, you didn’t do your job.”

He remained a role model up until his death. Earlier this month he joined civil rights leaders in getting the COVID-19 vaccine to show Black Americans that getting vaccinated is safe.

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