Baseball legend and Civil Rights advocate Henry "Hank" Aaron died Friday at the age of 86.
He was an American sports icon after his stellar nearly 20-year career with the Atlanta Braves and is one of the greatest ever to step up to the plate, holding the MLB home run record for 33 years. He also broke racial barriers as one of professional baseball's first prominent Black stars.
Spring Hill resident Brad Phillips was a friend of Aaron's and shared with the Home Page his memories of "Hammerin' Hank."
Henry Aaron (1934-2021) Rest well my friend.
My fondest memories of you. As a young boy I would go with my Dad to Fulton County Stadium to meet with his childhood friend and Braves front office executive Wayne Minshew. Just a few doors down from Mr. Minshew’s office, was the office of legendary Brave Hank Aaron.
At this point he was recognized as the greatest home run hitter of all time, passing Babe Ruth’s mark of 714 and eventually setting the new mark at 755. Although I knew he was a great baseball player, I didn’t realize what he meant to the history of the game that I would eventually love so much. I remember on one occasion peeking my head into his office and although he was on the phone he gave me a smile and a wave. This would begin a friendship that would eventually last a lifetime.
From 1986-1988 I would have the privilege of working for the Atlanta Braves. During those three years I would cherish the moments that I spent around him. He would show up early to the park most mornings to get in his exercise while running around the circular concourse area just inside Atlanta Fulton County Stadium's gates. We had many conversations sitting around a picnic table in the clubhouse.
Usually these conversations did not include the X's and O’s of baseball but focused mainly around how I was doing in high school or how my brother Cliff or my parents were. Although soft spoken he would often reference his days as a teenager and how he and his friends would play stickball and how they made the most out of what they had. Those were great life lessons. He would also talk about his family and what was going on in their lives which was obviously important to him.
In those days he was Vice President of the Braves and would still occasionally play in the Equitable Old Timers games in certain cities with other legends of the game. On several occasions he would ask me to throw batting practice to him under the stadium so that he could work on his swing… I’m sure there were many coaches that would have gladly done this, but he never wanted to interfere with any of the day-to-day activities or be a distraction to the team, and what an incredible experience for me.
I would deliver his uniform along with a few borrowed bats for him to use during his ceremonial events to his office and sit and talk about life. Years after my time with the Braves I visited his house in Atlanta, taking him a new treadmill as he always desired to stay in shape. The walls of his rec room were covered with keys to cities and awards that he received for achieving greatness in the eyes of millions.
It was at that moment that I realized that I had never heard him talk about himself in terms of being great or even good. He talked about perseverance and honor along with respect. Mainly respect for others. He never talked down to me or ever mentioned the term race to me. I guess he viewed us both as God’s children and that was that.
I am thankful that I had the privilege to know this great man. Not only because he was one of the greatest baseball players to ever live, or that he had to overcome some much hatred because of the color of his skin, although both of those are true, but because he was a man that cared and invested in others and believed that honor is something that is earned.
Well Hank, you have earned your honor and are respected as a great Man, Father, Leader, Friend and Hero. Well Done!