Hank Aaron is a true face of the franchise not just for the Braves and the Atlanta community, but all of baseball.
The Braves celebrated Aaron with their “Hank Aaron Heritage Weekend” Friday through Sunday as the team hosted the Cincinnati Reds. They wore the same uniforms Aaron wore in the early 1970s, and he made an appearance Friday night.
Aaron’s influence on the organization has carried generations. The Braves built a national fanbase largely by Aaron hammering balls out of the old Atlanta Stadium. He’s had a presence in Atlanta far beyond his playing days, and has worked for the team since the conclusion of the 1976 season.
Aaron became the Braves’ senior vice president and assistant to the president in 1980. One of his more lasting transactions: hiring current Braves manager Brian Snitker in 1981.
Snitker has spent 41 of his 61 years with the Braves, with 36 of those courtesy of Aaron. When Snitker was being released as a player, Aaron told him he wanted to retain him as a coach.
“I didn’t really interview,” Snitker said. “He just released me and offered me a coaching job.”
Since then, Snitker has considered Aaron a valuable friend. He recalled many times in spring training spent listening to Aaron’s stories, soaking up as much knowledge as he could from the man many still consider to be baseball’s all-time home run king.
“He’s been very influential in my baseball life,” Snitker said. “I’m very in debt to him. It’s kind of cool to have such a good friend that’s Hank Aaron. It’s neat. Just a really good friend, and it’s kind of cool.”
Snitker couldn’t pinpoint the specifics of what Aaron has taught him because the list is rather long. But Aaron’s humbleness has always stood out to him. Snitker remembers Aaron being asked how many All-Star games he played in.
“I don’t know,” Aaron responded. “Twenty-five or something.”
For the record, Aaron was correct. His 25 All-Star games are the most all-time, as are his 2,297 RBIs, 6,856 total bases and 1,477 extra base hits. His 755 home runs rank second to Barry Bonds’ 762, though Bonds’ association with performance-enhancing drugs have cast a black cloud over that number.
When Bonds homered past Aaron’s mark in 2007, there was a video tribute ready at AT&T Park in San Francisco, where Aaron commended Bonds on his accomplishment.
It’s never been about the numbers or the on-field success for Aaron. To Snitker, that means the most.
“He’s been such a good friend my entire career,” Snitker said. “He’s a good man. I remember as a young coach in spring training, after workouts, we’d hear all his stories, things like that. We always talked about his accomplishments. He never wanted to talk about himself. It was never about what he did. We’d ask him what’d he think of those guys facing you, all that stuff, but he was never like an ‘I, me’ guy.”
Aaron was driven around SunTrust Park’s field Friday night and met with an ovation and applause. If that was any indication, Aaron still carries the same allure he did when he took the batter’s box.
The now 83-year-old Aaron, a man indelible to the Atlanta community, continues to shape the Braves’ future, as he has since 1954.
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