Tributes to Hank Aaron, ‘a giant of a man,’ at Truist Park

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks during "A Celebration of Henry Louis Aaron," a memorial service celebrating the life and enduring legacy of the Hall of Famer and American icon, on Tuesday at Truist Park. Photo by Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves
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MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks during "A Celebration of Henry Louis Aaron," a memorial service celebrating the life and enduring legacy of the Hall of Famer and American icon, on Tuesday at Truist Park. Photo by Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves

Credit: Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves

Heartfelt tributes were paid to Henry Louis Aaron during a memorial service at Truist Park on Tuesday afternoon.

Former Braves player Marquis Grissom, an Atlanta native who was in college when he first met Aaron, summed up the sentiments expressed by many speakers: “We all talk about the numbers – the home runs, the stats – but I tell you the man off the field was incredible. … We’ll miss you, Hank. We love you.”

Here are excerpts from the tributes.

Rob Manfred, MLB commissioner:

“The man we gather to remember today belongs on our sport’s Mount Rushmore. He stood on and off the field above all others. While he made his name here in Atlanta and in Milwaukee, his loss has been felt across our great nation. Henry Aaron was a giant of a man. His accomplishments were quite literally the stuff of legends.

“There was so much more to Hank Aaron than his feats on the field. Hank Aaron was not just a great player; he was truly a great man. Hank Aaron carried himself with a sense of dignity. When you were around Hank, you could sense an aura of greatness, and people were naturally drawn to that aura.

“Hank Aaron was humble. I knew Hank for more than two decades, and I never once heard him talk about his own accomplishments on the field. In fact, when others would talk about Hank’s great career, he would acknowledge that conversation only with that wonderful smile of his.

“Hank Aaron was an agent of change in our society. As he chased Babe Ruth’s record, he received vile, racist threats. Through that wrenching period, he courageously demonstrated the strength to keep going. He persevered and delivered to all African-Americans an accomplishment in which they could take great pride. He also delivered to his racist detractors the message that greatness – greatness in a man from the Deep South, a Black man from the Deep South – could not be suppressed. Just as Jackie Robinson was the perfect person to change our game forever in 1947, Hank Aaron was the perfect person to meet the historic moment that he created in 1974.”

ExploreThe AJC's complete coverage on the life of Hank Aaron

Terry McGuirk, Braves chairman:

“Over the last several days, Hank’s list of on-field accomplishments has been mentioned repeatedly – and rightfully so because it’s hard to fathom the depth of talent and the fact he still holds some of these records 40-years-plus after he retired.

“To us, though, he will always be known as our home-run king. And for our organization, Hank was much more than those stats, much more than the greatest ballplayer of all time. He helped guide our organization ever since his playing days ended. I love hearing the stories about players first meeting Hank and the reverence they felt being around him. But once they were able to speak to him, it was his knowledge and respect for the game which always stood out. Doing things the right way was one of his mantras.

“Just as important as his guidance for our organization has been, his extraordinary community outreach and philanthropy have surpassed any major-league record he attained. … The world -- not just Alabama, Milwaukee or Atlanta – the world is a better place because of Henry Louis Aaron and (his wife) Billye.”

Marquis Grissom, former Braves outfielder:

“In 1987, I was in college at Florida A&M University, where I was coached by Robert Lucas, brother of Bill Lucas, former GM of the Atlanta Braves. Also there was Lary Aaron, who was the outfield coach. One trip we were making was from Tallahassee, Florida, to North Carolina A&T, and coach Robert Lucas said, ‘We’re going to stop in Atlanta and go by and see Hank Aaron.’ In my mind, I’m, like, ‘Yeah, right.’ And, lo and behold, Lary told me, ‘Yeah, we’re really going to stop by and see my dad.’ That was my first encounter with Henry Aaron.

“During the visit at his house, he sat us all down and talked with us one by one. Those famous words came out of his mouth: ‘You’ve got to get your education. If you get an opportunity, do your very best.’ And he said, ‘As a man, you’re going to get one good opportunity in your lifetime. You’ll be lucky if you get two.’

“Those words … stuck with me, lit a fire inside of me that is still lit today. That’s why I love and admire and respect Henry Aaron. We all talk about the numbers -- the home runs, the stats -- but I tell you the man off the field was incredible.

“There is no other athlete that I know that had (such) an impact on my life and many other kids right here in the city of Atlanta to get them to that next level.”

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Chipper Jones gives a speech at memorial service for Hank Aaron

Chipper Jones, former Braves third baseman:

“Early in my career, I asked him if, when he walked to the plate, was he intimidated? You’ve got to remember he was facing (Bob) Gibson, (Sandy) Koufax, (Don) Drysdale, guys like that. He said, ‘Chipper, I fear no man when I have a bat in my hand.’

“I’ve been asked many times in the last few days to describe Henry Aaron in one word. Without hesitation, that one word is simply ‘beautiful.’ The swing, the smile and the spirit, all beautiful.

“He set the perfect example for everybody in the Atlanta Braves organization on how to deal with adversity. You just spread a little grace on it, and you go play ball. Keep swinging, as he would say. I feel that if Hank were to have one last message for all of us, it would be to respect each other, to help each other and to keep love in your heart.”

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Braves manager Snitker gives emotional speech about Hank Aaron

Brian Snitker, Braves manager:

“He gave me a chance to manage in the Braves organization (in the early 1980s, when Aaron was the team’s farm director). That’s how I got to see him for the person he was, got to know him and work with him. None of us ever felt like we were working for Hank, always with him.

“Hank would never call without first asking how you were doing, how the family was or if I needed anything. Then we’d talk about the team. In his role as farm director, he developed young managers and coaches and in return allowed us to develop the players he entrusted to us. We all wanted to do well for him and reward that trust.

“I’ll miss the friend and mentor that I had in my life.”

Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City (on video):

“Henry Aaron means the world to me. He is my all-time favorite major-league baseball player. He was my childhood idol as a kid growing up in tiny Crawfordville, Georgia.

“I am tremendously honored and humbled to reflect on where his illustrious professional baseball career began, in the Negro Leagues. My favorite photograph in the (museum’s) entire exhibition is a relatively nondescript photograph of a then-18-year-old Henry Aaron standing at the train station in Mobile, Alabama, and at his feet is a duffel bag. When I had the opportunity to tour him through the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum for the first time in 1999, he told me, ‘Bob, I may have had two changes of clothes in that bag, $1.50 in my pocket and a ham sandwich that my momma had made me, and I was going to go chase that dream.’ (He was) headed to the Indianapolis Clowns, a skinny, cross-handed hitting shortstop. When he gets to the Clowns, they put the right hand on top, and the rest, as they say, is history.

“Henry Aaron will go down in this game as one of its all-time greatest players, but more importantly Henry Aaron will go down in the annals of American history as one of the greatest human beings to ever walk the face of this earth.”

Dusty Baker, Houston Astros manager and former Braves teammate of Aaron’s (on video):

“You (Aaron) meant as much to me as anybody in my whole life. I just want to thank you for giving me love, discipline. Sometimes, you know, you had to tell me like it was. But I really appreciated (you) helping me be the man that I am.

“We all love you. We’ll see you in Heaven.”

Dale Murphy, former Braves player (on video):

“As I have (grown) older and understood the challenges that Hank faced in not only being a ballplayer but serving his fellow man as well, my admiration and respect is beyond measure. I’ll never understand how he did it and how he carried himself with such grace and dignity. But I’ll always be thankful for the chance to rub shoulders with Hank Aaron.

“I felt something different when I was in his presence, and I’ve been around a lot of ballplayers that have achieved a lot of records. But there was something special about Hank. Hank was the epitome of how we should all be as human beings.”

Freddie Freeman, Braves first baseman (on video):

“Hank Aaron, a man that was the epitome of love. From every conversation, every handshake and every smile, that’s how he made me feel.

“God gave him the talent, and he used that talent to become the greatest baseball player of all time. But more importantly, he used it to make our city, our country and the world a better place.”