Hank Aaron, one of the titans of Major League Baseball and a former all-time home run record-holder, died Friday at the age of 86, according to Atlanta local media.
Affectionately known as Hammerin’ Hank, the Hall of Famer was born on Feb. 5, 1934, in Mobile, Ala., one one eight children.
The Milwaukee Braves signed Aaron from the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League in 1952 when he was just 19.
Two years later, Aaron made his debut for the Braves against the Cincinnati Reds, almost seven years to the day after Jackie Robinson started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking the color barrier in modern baseball.
Aaron, along with Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Billy Williams and Willie McCovey — who all grew up in deeply segregated Alabama, like Aaron — were the first wave of Black stars to play in MLB after Robinson.
In a tweet Friday morning, ESPN baseball columnist Jeff Passan described Aaron as “a true American hero.”
“Raised in the Jim Crow South, he ignored hatred as he conquered baseball and went on to live a life of eminence. He was a paragon of grace and class. When he walked into a room, everyone froze, then marveled. We all knew we were among a king," Passan said.
In 23 seasons in the majors, Aaron was an All-Star all but twice, and despite playing his last game in 1976, he is still the all-time leader in runs batted in, at 2,297, extra base hits, with 1,477, total bases, with 6,856, as well as being second in home runs with 755, behind only Barry Bonds's 762.
“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. His incredible talent and resolve helped him achieve the highest accomplishments, yet he never lost his humble nature,” Atlanta Braves chairman Terry McGuirk said in a statement.
“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. We are heartbroken and thinking of his wife, Billye, and their children Gaile, Hank, Jr., Lary, Dorinda and Ceci and his grandchildren.”
Aaron spent the majority of his career with Braves, staying with them after they relocated to Atlanta before eventually closing his career with the Milwaukee Brewers.
His shining moment, though, happened four games into the 1974 season — his last year in Atlanta. In front of a home crowd, Aaron smacked his 715th career home run off of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Al Downing, surpassing Babe Ruth’s mark of 714.
Aaron was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honor, in 2002 by former President George W. Bush.
Aaron was most recently in the news just two weeks ago when he publicly received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
At the time, he told The Associated Press that getting the vaccine made him “feel wonderful.”