LEADOFF: What Hank Aaron has to say about Braves … and Falcons

Hank Aaron shares a laugh with his wife, Billye, at SunTrust Park on Thursday. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: Hyosub Shin

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Hank Aaron shares a laugh with his wife, Billye, at SunTrust Park on Thursday. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Good morning. This is Leadoff, the early buzz in Atlanta sports.

Had a chance to sit down with Hank Aaron after a ceremony Thursday at SunTrust Park.

Here’s some of what he had to say …

On the Braves' plans for honoring former vice president of player personnel (read: general manager) Bill Lucas in their new stadium: "This is marvelous. … I just feel like all of the great things that he did, you couldn't spell it (all out). I remember my office was right next to his. … He was really a hard worker. He helped me when I jumped off the playing field into the front office. He helped me, along with (former director of scouting) Paul Snyder, so I am very grateful for that. And he never had any resentment in his body at all."

On the influence of a former Braves owner on Lucas’ career: “You have to give people due justice, and Ted Turner was so instrumental in everything that Bill did, really. And he helped me so much.”

On the Braves’ outlook for the 2017 season: “I think the Braves are going to do well. Are they ready to win a championship? I don’t think so, not right now. But I think they’re going to be much better off than they were last year. You look at all these young kids. Now just let them go out there and let them play.”

On SunTrust Park: “I like the stadium. It’s a beautiful ballpark.”

And on the top topic in Atlanta sports since Sunday night, the Falcons blowing a 25-point lead to lose the Super Bowl: “Wasn’t that horrible? I tell you what really happened. When Julio (Jones) made that fantastic catch (in the fourth quarter), after that we should have just started running the ball. It was already in field-goal range. … I was in Florida, and I went to the bathroom and I came back and my wife said, ‘The Falcons are about to lose this game.’ I said, ‘WHAT?’ This is absolutely sad.”

* * *

The Braves unveiled plans Thursday for a series of tributes to Lucas, the first African-American to run the player-personnel department of an MLB club.

The baseball-operations conference room at SunTrust Park will be named the Bill Lucas Conference Room. The street, off Circle 75 Parkway, on which Braves players and executives will enter the stadium will be named Bill Lucas Way. And the Bill Lucas Apprenticeship program will be created to offer year-long apprentice positions in baseball operations to candidates of diverse backgrounds.

Lucas spent more than 20 years in the Braves’ organization in a variety of roles, starting as a minor-league player in 1956, continuing as a member of the transition team that oversaw the franchise’s move from Milwaukee to Atlanta in 1966 and culminating with his appointment as vice president of player personnel — effectively general manager — in 1976.

Lucas served in the latter role until his death at age 43 on May 5, 1979, of a massive cerebral hemorrhage.

The profound impact Lucas made on the Braves organization was reflected all these decades later in the turnout of franchise heavyweights for the ceremony announcing how he’ll be honored at the new stadium.

“It’s fitting as we put our roots down in this new ballpark that Bill has a permanent place of remembrance so that all future Braves executives and employees will know how highly we regard this Braves hero,” Braves chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk said.

Please click here for the full story on Thursday’s ceremony.

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