Even after his retirement from baseball I continued to admire Henry Aaron the man. When I was a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta in the late 1970s, I recall standing on Ashby Street (now Joseph Lowery Boulevard) watching the school’s homecoming parade. After a few minutes I looked around at others in the crowd and was surprised to notice that my idol, the greatest living baseball player, was standing a few feet away, by himself, in blue jeans. He blended right into the SW Atlanta crowd; no one noticed, and I could tell from his demeanor that Aaron was not looking to be noticed.
My favorite Henry Aaron story is one I suspect very few people know. It comes from former Atlanta Brave and former Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker. I don’t think Dusty would mind if I repeated it. I ran into Dusty one night at a restaurant in Washington. I introduced myself, and Dusty invited me to join him and a few Nationals players. Over dinner, I asked Dusty why, as an 18-year-old from California, he agreed to sign with the Atlanta Braves in 1967. Dusty’s answer was simple: His mother had extracted a promise from the Braves that the team’s star player, Henry Aaron, would look out for her son. Aaron kept the promise, and then some: on the road, he never let Dusty stay out late, and he would bring him his hotel breakfast in the mornings. The mentorship endured for years, to the day in April 1974 when Baker was in the on-deck circle to watch Aaron hit number 715 to break Ruth’s record.