Longtime home run king Hank Aaron dies at 86

Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron, the Hall of Fame slugger whose 755 career home runs long stood as baseball’s golden mark, has died. He was 86.

One of the sport’s great stars despite playing for the small-market Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves throughout a major league career that spanned from 1954 to 1976, Aaron still holds major league records for RBIs (2,297), total bases (6,856) and extra-base hits (1,477), and he ranks among MLB’s best in hits (3,771, third all time), games played (3,298, third) and runs scored (2,174, fourth).

But it was Hammerin’ Hank’s sweet home run swing for which he was best known.

A 6-foot-0, 180-pounder, Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s hallowed home run mark less than a week into the 1974 season, slugging his record 715th off Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Al Downing in the fourth inning as 50,000-plus fans celebrated in Atlanta. One of baseball’s iconic moments, Aaron trotted around the basepaths — despite briefly being interrupted by two fans, including a young Craig Sager — and ultimately touched home plate, where teammates hoisted him and his parents embraced him.

Aaron went on to play two more seasons and finished with 755 career home runs, a mark that stood as the major league record until Barry Bonds broke it in 2007.

Aaron finished his career with a host of accolades. He was the National League MVP in 1957, a two-time NL batting champion (1956, ’59), a three-time Gold Glove winner in right field (1958-60) and a record 25-time All-Star.

He was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, receiving 97.8% approval in his first year on the ballot. In 1999, MLB created the Hank Aaron Award, given annually to the best hitter in both the AL and NL.

Off the field, Aaron was an activist for civil rights, himself being a victim of racial inequalities. Aaron was born in Mobile, Alabama, and didn’t play organized high school baseball because only white students had teams. During the buildup to his passing of Ruth’s home run mark, threats were made on his life by people who did not want to see a Black man break the record.

After he retired, Aaron joined the Braves as an executive and hoped more Black players could find that type of work after their playing days were finished.

“On the field, Blacks have been able to be super giants,” he once said. “But once our playing days are over, this is the end of it and we go back to the back of the bus again.”

Aaron was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002.

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