Baseball Legend Hank Aaron Dead at 86

Hank Aaron, baseball’s longtime home run king and one of the greatest players in the history of the sport, has died at the age of 86.

Aaron’s former franchise the Atlanta Braves announced his death Friday, adding that Aaron died peacefully in his sleep at his home, ESPN reported. No cause of death was provided.

“We are absolutely devastated by the passing of our beloved Hank,” Atlanta Braves chairman Terry McGuirk said in a statement. “He was a beacon for our organization first as a player, then with player development, and always with our community efforts. His incredible talent and resolve helped him achieve the highest accomplishments, yet he never lost his humble nature. Henry Louis Aaron wasn’t just our icon, but one across Major League Baseball and around the world. His success on the diamond was matched only by his business accomplishments off the field and capped by his extraordinary philanthropic efforts.”

The power-hitting “Hammerin’ Hank” spent 23 seasons in the major leagues, amassing over 3,700 hits and 755 home runs, breaking Babe Ruth’s longtime record and setting a new benchmark that stood for over 30 years.

Over the course of his career, Aaron toppled nearly every achievement in baseball: He was named Most Valuable Player in 1957, the same year his then-Milwaukee Braves won the World Series, and was named to the All-Star team a record-breaking 25 times. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, his first year of eligibility. Aaron received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002.

However, Aaron — a model of consistency, as he averaged over 32 home runs a season over his 23-year career — is best known for breaking Babe Ruth’s long-held home run record, a feat made all the more remarkable considering he often faced racism as a marquee black player in the Deep South; according to Aaron, his teammates were afraid to sit next to him in the dugout during the final days of his pursuit of Ruth’s record in 1974 due to death threats.

“I never wanted them to forget Babe Ruth,” Aaron once said. “I just wanted them to remember Henry Aaron.”

Chipper Jones, another Atlanta Braves Hall of Famer who captained the team decades after Aaron, tweeted Friday, “I can’t imagine what Hank Aaron went through in his lifetime. He had every right to be angry or militant…..but never was! He spread his grace on everything and every one he came in contact with. Epitome of class and integrity. RIP Henry Aaron!”

Born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, Henry Aaron dealt with racism from an early age, revealing that as a young boy, his mother had him crawl under his bed while the Ku Klux Klan marched down his street. Following a year in the Negro leagues, Aaron entered the majors in 1954 with the Milwaukee Braves, who relocated to Atlanta in 1966.

“This is a considerable loss for the entire city of Atlanta,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in a statement. “While the world knew him as ‘Hammering Hank Aaron’ because of his incredible, record-setting baseball career, he was a cornerstone of our village, graciously and freely joining Mrs. Aaron in giving their presence and resources toward making our city a better place. As an adopted son of Atlanta, Mr. Aaron was part of the fabric that helped place Atlanta on the world stage. Our gratitude, thoughts and prayers are with the Aaron family.”

The Baseball Hall of Fame said in a statement, “Hank Aaron’s incredible talent on the baseball field was only matched by his dignity and character, which shone brightly, not only here in Cooperstown, but with every step he took. His courage while pursuing the game’s all-time home run record served as an example for millions of people inside and outside of the sports world, who were also aspiring to achieve their greatest dreams. His generosity of spirit and legendary accomplishments will live in Cooperstown forever.”

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