Hammerin’ Hank Aaron’s Lessons for Life and Running

AJW's TaproomI can remember exactly where I was sitting on Monday, April 8, 1974 when Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run and surpassed Babe Ruth as Major League Baseball’s “home run king.”

I was a six-year-old kid in New York City, a child of the politically charged Upper West Side of Manhattan, and, to me, Hank Aaron was as close to a god as there was in my life.

I recall how the off-season between 1973 and 1974, when Hank sat on 713 home runs, seemed endless. I recall hearing news reports about how much racist hate mail Aaron received that winter from people who did not want him to break Ruth’s record. And, most of all, I recall the unabashed joy I felt that Monday night in April when I saw with my own two eyes, on the small, grainy television in our family’s living room, my idol make history.

Last Friday, at the age of 86, Henry Louis Aaron passed away.

A first-ballot Hall of Fame selection in 1981, Aaron finished his career with 755 home runs, a record that stood until Barry Bonds broke it in 2007. A quiet and notoriously humble soul, Aaron was, in many ways, the antithesis of both the brash Ruth and the outspoken Bonds. In fact, what I most admired about Aaron, both then and now, was how calmly and without drama he went about his work.

My dad used to say, “Andy, keep rooting for Hank Aaron. He’s a true gentleman.”

In his post-playing days, Aaron remained involved in baseball and for many years worked in the Atlanta Braves Front Office as one of the few African American executives in the sport. A tireless advocate of bringing more Black people into baseball, Aaron was a prime example of the importance of relentless activism in a sport that is known for its resistance to change.

As an aging ultrarunner, I have come to realize that what I most admire about Hank Aaron is his legacy of consistency and longevity. If you’ve read this column for any amount of time, you know that these are themes I come back to again and again and my boyhood idol is one reason why. Some critics of Aaron, back in the day, even called him boring and complained that he made things look easy. And, indeed, he left the flash and the glitz to others.

In a major-league career spanning 23 years, he won the Major League Baseball Most Valuable Player Award and World Series exactly one time each. He won two batting titles and four home-run titles, but never in his career did he hit more than 45 home runs in a season. And yet, for his 23-year career he maintained a remarkable average of 37 home runs per 162 games played. The way in which he just came to the ballpark every day and did his job, with focused excellence, is an example to us all.

Thinking about my future, both in running and in life, I hope to at least in some small part, emulate Aaron. Just think, if we can all keep moving forward, doing what’s expected of us when it’s expected, and support others as they do the same, how we can become better versions of ourselves and help society along the way. If we start by doing that with our running, getting out there day after day, not to do anything super special to anyone but us, maybe that will rub off on other parts of our lives and even rub off on the world, as well.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Orpheus Brewing in Atlanta, Georgia. All You Get is All You Get is a delicious Hazy Sour Ale that really redefines the variety. A beer that is tart at the beginning and sweet by the end is truly rare but the good folks at Orpheus have done it. Be sure to give it a try the next time you find yourself in the U.S. South.

Call for Comments

  • Are you also a fan of Hank Aaron? What about him do you admire?
  • Like AJW and perhaps Hank Aaron, is longevity a value you seek in your running?

Hank Aaron in 1974. Photo: Texas Rangers via Tradingcarddb.com

There are 6 comments

  1. Sean

    I think it’s testimony to Hank and the legacy he leaves behind that even as a kid growing up in 1980’s and 90’s New Zealand, I knew who he was and his reputation. Baseball still isn’t widely followed here, but we know the truly great names and Hank Aaron is surely one of them. RIP, Hank.

  2. Tony Mollica

    A wonderful article with many great points. I’ve seen quite a few interviews where teammates and other associates of Mr. Aaron state that they never heard him say a bad word about anyone nor did they ever hear him brag. Pretty dang awesome, and a tough standard to emulate!

  3. John Vanderpot

    I was within (ultra-) running distance of you that night, Mr. JW, in Westchester County, a town called Croton (ever heard of it?) and had a very similar experience…and I still remember my father explaining to me why so many people were against him doing what he went on to do, could hardly understand it then and still don’t!

  4. Steve W

    Grew up with the Milwaukee Braves. Thought that there were three Aaron brothers: Hank, Tommy, and Henry. I wasn’t too bright of a kid .

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