Hank Aaron was my first “favorite” baseball player.
In 1974 – when I began paying attention to the sport at nine years old – Hammerin’ Hank was on the brink of breaking Babe Ruth’s career home run record of 714 homers. Aaron was sitting on 713, and the 1974 season would assuredly produce those two home runs quickly.
I begged my parents for a special “715” glove with Hank’s autograph emblazoned on it. They gave in and I got one (and wish I still had it).
I watched the home run that broke the record live on TV. No Facebook, Twitter, DVRs. You had to be there “live.”
The record-breaking shot came off pitcher Al Downing of the Los Angeles Dodgers early in an April game. A couple of rambunctious fans jumped on the field and met him around second base wanting to trot around the bases with him. They were quickly tackled by security.
This event is memorable for me from a baseball history perspective. It also was my first view of racism in America.
I didn’t understand at the time that those fans jumping on to the field were seen as a real threat to Aaron. How he kept his composure, I will never know. For years leading up to this day, Hank Aaron had been getting death threats and recieving abuse from white fans furious that a black man from Mobile, AL was about to break the cherished record of the iconic Babe Ruth.
His quiet courage in the face of hate was truly remarkable. It may not have gotten the same noteriety as Jackie Robinson in breaking the color barrier only about 25 years earlier, but in my opinion was as important.
As I fondly recall Hank Aaron’s legacy and my memories of him as a ball player, I also think of the courage he showed in achieving greatness in the face of bigotry, violence, and hate.
I hope we can courageously hold that same conviction in coping with the small daily challenges we all face as employers, business professionals, and humans.
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