President Joe Biden hailed Hank Aaron for his “courage and dignity,” as tributes continued pouring in Friday for baseball’s greatest hitter in the wake of his death at age 86.
“When I watched Henry Aaron play baseball, I knew I was watching someone special,” the newly inaugurated president said, in a statement from the White House. “It wasn’t just about watching a gifted athlete master his craft on the way to a Hall of Fame career as one of the greatest to ever play the game. It was that each time Henry Aaron rounded the bases, he wasn’t just chasing a record, he was helping us chase a better version of ourselves.
“With courage and dignity, he eclipsed the most hallowed record in sports while absorbing vengeance that would have broken most people. But he was unbreakable. He stemmed the vicious force of white supremacy, in death threats, hate mail, and in hardened hearts.”
Aaron’s cause of death has not been released.
“What I deeply admired and respected about him is that each time he rounded those bases — an astonishing 755 trips home — he melted away more and more of the ice of bigotry to show that we can be better as a people and as a nation,” Biden said. “Henry Aaron became, in the words of President Carter, ‘the first Black man for whom white fans in the South cheered.’”
STATEMENT FROM FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER ON THE PASSING OF HANK AARON pic.twitter.com/Bp4Jh21MZ3— The Carter Center (@CarterCenter) January 22, 2021
“It was not only his bat, but his character that won over those hearts and minds,” Biden continued. “For generations of athletes and civil rights advocates who followed, he showed how to be proud and be unafraid to stand up for what is right and just. Jill and I count ourselves among the many millions of Americans who are grateful for the memories he gave us and our families. As a nation, we will still chase the better version of ourselves that he set for us. As we do, we mourn his passing and send our prayers to his beloved Billye, their children and grandchildren, and the entire Aaron family.
“God bless, Henry ‘Hank’ Aaron, an American hero.”
» Read and sign the online guestbook for Hank Aaron
Biden’s former boss, Barack Obama, issued his own statement earlier Friday, as did many Hollywood celebrities and other national political leaders.
Hank Aaron was one of the best baseball players we’ve ever seen and one of the strongest people I’ve ever met. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to the Aaron family and everyone who was inspired by this unassuming man and his towering example. pic.twitter.com/2RZdc82Y18— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) January 22, 2021
Henry “Hank” Aaron joined the team today. Truly one of the most incredible human beings on and off the field. Gave so much to life. Every time he played he left us filled with hope and inspiration. People came from all over the world to see him play ball. Amazing. RIP #sswa pic.twitter.com/Wiggl5MBKf— Edward James Olmos (@edwardjolmos) January 22, 2021
When I was a kid, learning about Hank Aaron’s life and career meant learning for the first time that folks were still treated differently because of the color of their skin. Also it meant learning about an amount of dignity that I couldn’t possibly comprehend. #RIPHankAaron— Jason Isbell (@JasonIsbell) January 22, 2021
Hank Aaron was quite possibly the greatest power hitter to ever walk the earth, and he did it playing in the Deep South while receiving constant death threats. RIP to a legend pic.twitter.com/PpEkLm1iDn— John Wilson (@johnmilkson) January 22, 2021
» How Henry Aaron made baseball a form of civil rights activism
Hank Aaron, who faced down racism as he eclipsed Babe Ruth as baseball’s home run king, hitting 755 homers and holding the most celebrated record in sports for more than 30 years, has died at 86.— Mia Farrow (@MiaFarrow) January 22, 2021
The Atlanta Braves, his team for years, confirmed the death https://t.co/AG2NIRwm7M
As a child, Hank Aaron hid under his bed when the KKK stormed through his neighborhood.— Paul Hembekides (@PaulHembo) January 22, 2021
As an 18 year old, he left Mobile, Alabama with two sandwiches and two dollars.
He retired as baseball's home run king and died today a hero. So inspiring.
What a loss. 💔 Hank Aaron, baseball great who became a voice for civil rights, dies at 86 https://t.co/l4B2Dhnf3M— Katie Couric (@katiecouric) January 22, 2021
Aaron made his last public appearance just 2 1/2 weeks ago, when he received the COVID-19 vaccine. He said he wanted to help spread the to Black Americans that the vaccine was safe.
Home run king Hank Aaron has passed away. A baseball legend, Hammerin' Hank finished his career with 755 home runs while battling racism in the Deep South. He left a mark on the diamond and in our communities. Rest in power #44! 🙏🏾 pic.twitter.com/aAzJdvXx61— Ben Crump (@AttorneyCrump) January 22, 2021
“I don’t have any qualms about it at all, you know. I feel quite proud of myself for doing something like this,” he said. “It’s just a small thing that can help zillions of people in this country.”
Hank Aaron:A hero against racial odds.He could not stay in the same hotel w/his teammates. A champion. He rode on the people’s shoulders as we looked upon him in adoration.A hero.We rode on his shoulders.He lifted us to higher heights.He was the undisputed champion of home runs. pic.twitter.com/08WT5tjw0D— Rev Jesse Jackson Sr (@RevJJackson) January 22, 2021
“Hammerin’ Hank” set a wide array of career hitting records during a 23-year career spent mostly with the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves, including RBIs, extra-base hits and total bases.
Hank Aaron was not only a home run king, but a king of justice. In the face of racism and vitriol, he broke through barriers with grace on his way to becoming one of the greatest baseball players of all-time. We've lost a true trailblazer and American icon.— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) January 22, 2021
May he rest in peace. https://t.co/HXD5bqGbnm
But the Hall of Famer will be remembered for one swing above all others, the one that made him baseball’s home-run king. Before a sellout crowd at Atlanta Stadium and a national television audience, Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record with No. 715 off Al Downing of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
No alltime great could come close to Hank Aaron in terms of consistency. For 19 straight seasons, he slugged between .514 and .669 and hit between 24 and 47 home runs.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 22, 2021
It was a title he would be hold for more than 33 years, a period in which the Hammer slowly but surely claimed his rightful place as one of America’s most iconic sporting figures, a true national treasure worthy of mention in the same breath with Ruth or Ali or Jordan.
A slugger has rounded the bases for the last time. Hank Aaron was a trailblazer and a hero who had to stare down hatred. He was also one of the best ballplayers to ever play the game. He was a joy to watch and a marvel to behold. May he Rest In Peace.— Dan Rather (@DanRather) January 22, 2021
I was never much into sports as a kid but I liked listening to baseball on the radio. Hank Aaron was the star player when I first started paying attention. From all accounts he was a class act - humble and kind. pic.twitter.com/JG7uFGsJlw— David Sobolov (@volobos) January 22, 2021
We celebrate the life and journey of the great, #HankAaron. He was a great athlete and a great person. May he Rest In Peace and Power. pic.twitter.com/b2npJsaW5H— Reverend Al Sharpton (@TheRevAl) January 22, 2021
Aaron’s death follows that of seven other Baseball Hall of Famers in 2020 and two more -- Tommy Lasorda and Don Sutton -- already this year.
From being a young man who couldn’t afford baseball equipment to an @MLB legend, Hank Aaron personified the American Dream.— Tim Scott (@SenatorTimScott) January 22, 2021
A giant on the field and off, he used his influence to champion civil rights.
I pray his legacy continues to live through us as we model his example.
The Hall of Famer finished his career with 755, a total surpassed by Barry Bonds in 2007 — though many continued to call the Hammer the true home run king because of allegations that Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs.
Rest In Peace #HankAaron. A true baseball legend. pic.twitter.com/bDeuzfh8hx— Barry L Bonds (@BarryBonds) January 22, 2021
Bonds finished his career with 762, though Aaron never begrudged someone eclipsing his mark. His common refrain: More than three decades as the king was long enough. It was time for someone else to hold the record.
He was not merely Hank Aaron, great baseball player. He was Hank Aaron, great American. After George Floyd's death, he said this to me last June: “I’m not able to move around much anymore. But if I could, I’d be out there marching. I’d be right there at the front of the line.”— Mike Lupica (@MikeLupica) January 22, 2021
Aaron played 21 seasons for the Milwaukee, then Atlanta Braves in the National League and two seasons for the Milwaukee Brewers in the AL, from 1954 through 1976.
Hank Aaron will go down in history as one of the greatest athletes of all time, an icon that defined excellence in sport and a civil rights hero on and off the field. Rest in power. pic.twitter.com/aaB1WvBd43— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) January 22, 2021
» Relive the night Hank Aaron hit No. 715 in Atlanta
You've probably seen it countless times by now, but it's one of my favorite facts, so I'll say it again today:— Grant McAuley (@grantmcauley) January 22, 2021
If you take away Hank Aaron's 755 home runs, he still has over 3,000 career hits. pic.twitter.com/VjxnK6okJo
Aaron held the MLB record for career home runs for 33 years, and he still holds several MLB offensive records.
#HankAaron was as decent, kind and inspirational a human being as ever walked this earth. Leading up to breaking Ruth’s record, he received roughly 3,000 pieces of hate mail a day... 3,000! BECAUSE OF THE COLOR OF HIS SKIN!#America— LeVar Burton (@levarburton) January 22, 2021
“I just tried to play the game the way it was supposed to be played,” Aaron said.
» Video: Hank Aaron talks about a year of honors and career memories
Aaron’s journey to that memorable homer was hardly pleasant. He was the target of extensive hate mail as he closed in on Ruth’s cherished record of 714, much of it sparked by the fact Ruth was white and Aaron was Black.
You know you’re a legend when you hit 755 HR way before steroids were a mainstream thing and still also had over 3,000 hits that weren’t home runs— NOTSportsCenter (@NOTSportsCenter) January 22, 2021
Rest In Peace, Hank Aaron pic.twitter.com/ApnF0Ptbta
“If I was white, all America would be proud of me,” Aaron said almost a year before he passed Ruth. “But I am Black.”
»Baseball legend Hank Aaron through the years
After retiring in 1976, Aaron became a revered figure, even though he never pursued the spotlight. He was thrilled when the U.S. elected its first African-American president, Barack Obama, in 2008. Former President Bill Clinton credited Aaron with helping carve a path of racial tolerance that made Obama’s victory possible.
RIP to a LEGEND. Hank Aaron passed away today at the age of 86 pic.twitter.com/4SD9Ycf7A1— FromTheWindup (@FromTheWindup) January 22, 2021
Aaron was a true five-tool star. He posted 14 seasons with a .300 average — the last of them at age 39 — and claimed two National League batting titles. He finished with a career average of .305.
RIP The Hammer—Hank Aaron has passed away. Could he play the game, or what?— Stephen King (@StephenKing) January 22, 2021
He hit 24 or more home runs every year from 1955 through 1973, and is one of only two players to hit 30 or more home runs in a season at least 15 times.
» Atlanta Constitution history: Hank Aaron hits No. 715
Aaron also was a gifted outfielder with a powerful arm, something often overlooked because of a smooth, effortless stride that his critics — with undoubtedly racist overtones — mistook for nonchalance. He was a three-time Gold Glove winner.
Hank Aaron was not only one of baseball’s greatest players, he was also a remarkable American hero, whose perseverance and forbearance in the face of unspeakable racism is a testament to the human spirit. We will miss him.https://t.co/JtGbnOmLnO— Ken Burns (@KenBurns) January 22, 2021
Aaron posted seven seasons with more than 20 stolen bases, including a career-best of 31 in 1963 when became only the third member of the 30-30 club — players who have totaled at least 30 homers and 30 steals in a season.
Hank Aaron was as important to the culture of our nation as just about any athlete who ever lived. An all time great player for whom his play barely scratches the surface of his signifigance. He will never be forgotten. #RIPHankAaron pic.twitter.com/lgwkhngRg4— Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) January 22, 2021
To that point, the feat had only been accomplished by Ken Williams (1922) and Willie Mays (1956 and ’57).
RIP to the home run king, Hank Aaron pic.twitter.com/bJl5NjKwB0— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 22, 2021
In 1982, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and was one of the original inductees into the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame.
3,771 Hits— Tim and Sid (@timandsid) January 22, 2021
755 Home Runs
3x Gold Glover
World Series Champion
Hall of Famer
RIP Hank Aaron. 🙏 pic.twitter.com/p39AAvnajz
In 1999, The Sporting News ranked Aaron fifth on its “100 Greatest Baseball Players” list.
Flat out crushed to hear the news about Hank Aaron. As a baseball fan, he meant the world to me. As a Black baseball fan, he meant even more. As a native Atlantan who also called SW ATL home ... you just have no idea.— Coley Harvey (@ColeyHarvey) January 22, 2021
Rest Well, Hammerin’ Home Run King. pic.twitter.com/tx0nKwrlyo
In 1988, Aaron was inducted into the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame.
“I never doubted my ability, but when you hear all your life you're inferior, it makes you wonder if the other guys have something you've never seen before. If they do, I'm still looking for it.” Hank Aaron #RestInPower pic.twitter.com/GwMl7hiBsL— Janai Nelson (@JNelsonLDF) January 22, 2021
In 1999, baseball began honoring its top hitter with the Hank Aaron Award, akin to the Cy Young for pitchers.
I have never seen a man so revered walking into a room filled with other Hall of Famers than Hank Aaron. He was a giant in so many ways, and his death today, many who have spoken to him in recent weeks, has left his closest friends in disbelief.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) January 22, 2021
Three years later, a nationwide vote named Aaron’s No. 715 as the second-most memorable moment in baseball history, eclipsed only by Cal Ripken Jr. breaking Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played.
I met Hank Aaron in 2016 at a conference I spoke at. He was so gentle and warm. If you never knew his story, you’d have no clue you sat next to a legend.— brittany packnett cunningham will brb. (@MsPackyetti) January 22, 2021
I’m struck by how many of our elders are passing on-and how much we have to ensure their stories are told. Rest in power 💔 pic.twitter.com/Qx9x9VFqNK
Also in 2002, President George W. Bush awarded Aaron the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Bush praised Aaron for overcoming “poverty and racism to become one of the most accomplished baseball players of all time.”
The Hammer is gone. The Real All Time Home Run leader. 6’ 180 lbs, no steroids, just continued excellence. 755 dingers, but never 50 in a year. Met him once w/my little boy. He was a tough but sweet man. A real man who defied racism; became the best. https://t.co/jm29AyXxqA— Chip Franklin InsideTheBeltway.com (@chipfranklin) January 22, 2021
He was named a 2010 Georgia Trustee by the Georgia Historical Society in recognition of accomplishments that reflect the ideals of Georgia’s founders.
Hank Aaron's legacy transcends his place as one of the greatest in the history of our national pastime. He represents the best of America, with his resiliency, grace, and relentless optimism. An extraordinary life. He is royalty. Always will be. RIP. @MLBNetwork @baseballhall— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) January 22, 2021
“He might be the greatest player of all time,” said the late Tony Gwynn, a fellow Hall of Famer. “Just look at his numbers. Everybody characterizes him as a home run hitter because he’s held that record so long. But he was a great baserunner, a great defender, a great player period.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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