Hank Aaron passed away peacefully in his sleep today at the age of 86.
There have been more than our fair share of people dying in the past year, to say the least. A worldwide pandemic has claimed the lives of over 400,000 Americans alone since last January. In the midst of all the Covid deaths, we have lost, too many to name here, a host of celebrities, sports stars, and world leaders. It has been a rougher than normal year.
And yet, every once in a while, along comes a death that grabs you by the heart, and, especially if you are a sports fan, really gets to you in a way you thought you had lost. There are stars, there are superstars, and then there are top of the mountain stars. Henry Louis Aaron was a special star.
Growing up in Chicago, I was lucky enough to see many great athletes in person, primarily at Wrigley Field, but occasionally at Comisky Park and the Chicago Stadium, and I appreciate it now, way more than I did when it was happening. Getting older will give you perspective you don't have as a kid.
Henry Aaron was a player that never drew attention to himself. He quietly went about his business, professionally, and doggedly. You can read about his records and achievements elsewhere, so I won't bore you with those here, but there are many, and they are big.
What we didn't really know at the time was the pressure he was under as he chased Babe Ruth's career home run record. It wasn't until later that the whole story come out. His life was threatened. His family was threatened. He had constant bodyguards protecting him. Why? Because he was a black man who dared to break the record of a white baseball player. Sadly not much has changed in America all these years later.
Henry Aaron's elegance, both on the field and off, was clear to see, and something to copy, for generations of young men. Even as rabid a Cubs fan as I was, you had to admire the skill of Hank Aaron when you watched him play. Joe Torre said that Hank Aaron was the only ballplayer he ever saw, that never made a mistake on the field.
For me, I will always picture him as I've shown above, in a Milwaukee Braves uniform. I will also remember him for breaking the hearts of Cubs fans too many times. Today is a sad day. We have lost a great man, who showed us how to be a great man, every single day of his life.