Seven hundred and fifty-five times that ball left the park and a serious, sincere man touched his foot to four consecutive bases in diamond shaped fields around America.
What are mortals made of? Every element can be catalogued, but there is something extra in this man and it didn’t come from a man-made chemical injected into body tissue.
They say your heart is about the size of a fist. Hank Aaron either has a fist like Popeye on spinach or the metaphor fails to take into account a rare enlargement, caused by the effects of compassion, spirit, humility, and pure talent colliding in the heart like a freight train.
Starting his career with the farcically named Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro League, Aaron finally stepped up to the plate for the Milwaukee Braves in 1954. He went to work, doing his job for the next twenty-one years, a vivid symbol of the misplaced fears of segregationists as the nation took sport’s lead and changed around him.
I photographed him surrounded by a sea of blue at Turner Field on Hank Aaron Drive. Despite his legendary fame, he was genuine, humble and gracious, and I will always remember the experience as one of my favorites in a business that has given me many wonderful moments.
His humble grace, integrity and quiet determination transcends sports. He was, and remains the best of what a sports legend is supposed to be: a role model for children and adults alike to aspire to equal. In an era of multi-million dollar contracts and endorsement deals, constant trades and tirades and the taint of enhanced abilities through chemically altered bodies, Aaron may represent the last of a breed. We can all be thankful that he remains with us, continuing his service as a reminder of our better selves.
Barry Bonds eclipsed the record Aaron held for an amazing 33 years but in the hearts of many, Aaron remains Hammerin’ Hank, the Home Run King.
Long live the king!