Profile in Black History – The Hammer

It has been said that one of the most difficult feats to perform in sports is to hit a pitched baseball with a bat. One athlete was so adept at this task that he was nicknamed ‘Hammerin Hank’.

Henry Aaron was born on 5 February, 1934 in Mobile, Alabama. He would go on to break a baseball record that had stood for more than 30 years.

Aaron was born into poverty, and unable to afford actual equipment, would have to improvise, using sticks as bats and various objects substituting for the ball. By the time he was in High School, he was playing on teams in the Negro Leagues. Aaron would later recall the blatant racism he encountered while traveling with these teams.

Once the color barrier was broken and African-Americans began to participate in Major League Baseball, Aaron became a star player with the Milwaukee Braves. In 1955 he was named to the NL All Star Roster. In 1959, in a game against the San Francisco Giants, he hit three home runs in a single game on 21 June. It was a feat he would never repeat. At age 37 he hit a career-high 47 home runs during the season.

As Aaron neared a record set by George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth, media attention intensified and hate mail grew. The widow of Babe Ruth stepped forward to condemn the hateful commentary directed at Aaron and said her husband would have been cheering Aaron on. On 8 April, 1974, Aaron broke the record by hitting home run number 715. Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully praised Aaron as he scored against the Los Angeles team, saying, “What a marvelous moment for the country and the world.” In 1976, Aaron would score his final home run, establishing a record that would stand until 2007.

Aaron would be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and be honored with the Medal of Freedom. In 1980 he released his autobiography “I Had a Hammer”.  Aaron would prove successful in business, not only as an Executive in professional baseball, but also in ownership of restaurants and automobile dealerships.

Aaron died at the age of 86, on 22 January, 2021.