What’s in a name, or in this case, a nickname? Hank “The Hammer” Aaron or “Hammerin’ Hank” — it’s a name that evokes power and might. When used as a verb the etymology tells us it can mean “deal blows with a hammer or axe” or the figurative meaning which is work (something) out laboriously. Both definitions fit the man in question and his long historic baseball career. Hank Aaron was the hammer that dealt a blow to Babe Ruth’s long-standing home run record.
Henry Louis Aaron was born on February 5, 1934, in Mobile, Alabama. He was the third of eight children growing up in humble beginnings. He’d always had an interest in baseball but as we know black people couldn’t play in the big leagues. But that changed with Jackie Robinson’s odyssey. And so eight years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier — Hank Aaron joined the game he cherished. He was 20 years old when he joined the Milwaukee Braves in 1954.
Speed was one of his greatest attributes and he knew it. It was that skill that got him close to Babe Ruth’s venerated record. But not everyone was happy about that. After all, how could a black player break Babe Ruth’s record? It was inconceivable to certain groups of people, and as is always the case with these kinds of people they made themselves known.
Hank Aaron breaks the Record
Hank encountered hate mail, death threats, and every kind of racial insult. This didn’t make him back down, but rather the opposite. He spoke out against the treatment of black players and how they were treated on and off the pitch, and became involved in the civil rights movement. Then on April 8, 1974, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, in a game versus the LA Dodgers, Hank Aaron broke Babe’s record.
It was a momentous occasion as heard in Vin Scully’s call. “What a marvelous moment for baseball; what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia; what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron… And for the first time in a long time, that poker face in Aaron shows the tremendous strain and relief of what it must have been like to live with for the past several months.”
Hank was so monumental to the sport that there’s even an award named after him. Every year the Hank Aaron award is given to the top hitter in each league, chosen by both the fans and the media alike. Aaron ended his career with a record 755 home runs and kept that record for 33 years. His jersey #44 is retired for both the Atlanta Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers. He joined the Hall of Fame in 1982.
Hank passed away early last year and is remembered as one of baseball’s greatest talents — on and off the field.