Well folks, the death of baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron last week brought up a lot of memories for fans around the country and I was no exception.
I remember watching him at Dodger Stadium with my mom and my brother on a trip out west when I was just a youngster. When I graduated in 1967, my mom sent me out to Los Angeles on my own for a visit and Jim took me to the All-Star game at Anaheim where Hank was a member of the National League team.
At the time it was the longest All-Star game in history, a 15-inning affair won by the National League 2-1. It was a treat for a young baseball fan and – who knew that almost 20 future Hall of Famers would play in that game?
Fast forward to June of 2016, the family was heading to Cooperstown on my bucket list pilgrimage to the Baseball Hall of Fame. I have many favorite players, but Lou Gehrig heads my all-time list. He was the epitome of baseball players on and off the field. I enjoyed the visit, of course, and they had to drag me out of the building.
One of the exhibits that I wasn’t aware of prior to the visit really stuck with me as I viewed it and thought of it many times in the past five years.
Hank Aaron was featured in an exhibit that included memorabilia like his 1957 World Series ring and the bat he used when he hit his 714th home run – which tied him with Babe Ruth for the all-time record. It included the uniform he wore when he went past Ruth with his 715th home run. All these things were wonderful to see but it wasn’t the thing that stuck with us. It was a group of hand-written letters that he received as he chased Ruth’s record.
I could not believe that people could be so cruel and downright malicious, threats against his life and the lives of his family. I think that the fact they were real letters, not reprinted, that made it so real to me. I stared in disbelief and then moved away, but the thoughts of those letters never would. It was a sobering moment in an otherwise unforgettable experience.
We salute Hank this week and the numbers he put up; 3,771 hits; 755 home runs; 2,297 runs batted in; lifetime batting average of .305 and 2,174 runs scored. All this and the most he ever made in a year was $240,000. It seems like a lot, but look at today’s salaries and it’s chicken feed, especially for a player of his caliber. Rest in peace “Hammerin’ Hank.” There will never be another like you!