Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, the quiet, unassuming slugger who broke Babe Ruth’s supposedly unbreakable record for most home runs in a career, has died at the age of 86.
The Atlanta Braves said Aaron died peacefully in his sleep. No cause of death was given.
Aaron made his last public appearance less than two weeks ago when he received the COVID-19 vaccine.
Aaron joined the Atlanta Braves management to become one of the few African-Americans in a baseball executive position after retiring as a player in 1976 with 755 career home runs.
Barry Bonds surpassed that figure in 2007 although many continued to call Aaron the true home run king because of allegations that his successor had used performance-enhancing drugs.
Aaron’s own hitting prowess earned him the nickname “Hammerin’ Hank” and his power was attributed to nothing but strong wrists.
He was somewhat shy and unassuming and did not have the flair of contemporaries Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle.
Instead, Aaron played with a smooth, under-control style that made the game look so easy that some critics wondered if he was really giving his best.
But Aaron was fuelled by a powerful inner desire as he overcame an impoverished youth and racial hatred to become one of the greatest and most consistent baseball stars of all-time.
He ultimately claimed his rightful place as one of America’s most iconic sporting figures, a true national treasure worthy of mention in the same breath with Ruth or Muhammad Ali or Michael Jordan.
‘The Hammer’ set multiple hitting records during a 23-year career spent mostly with the Braves, including RBIs, extra-base hits and total bases.
But he will be remembered for one swing above all others.
On April 8, 1974, before a sellout crowd at Atlanta Stadium and a national television audience, Aaron broke Ruth’s home run record with number 715 off Al Downing, of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Aaron was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982.
His profile on the hall’s website notes that boxing legend Ali called Aaron “the only man I idolise more than myself.”
It quotes Mickey Mantle as calling Aaron “the best baseball player of my era. … He’s never received the credit he’s due.”