… It is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron. … And for the first time in a long time, that poker face in Aaron shows the tremendous strain and relief of what it must have been like to live with for the past several months.—Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, April 8, 1974
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Henry Aaron, the greatest baseball player in history, died this morning at the age of 86. Because he played in an era in which baseball was a part of what it felt like to be an American, his impact on the sport extended far beyond baseball. America needed Hank Aaron (and Willie Mays and so many others) in ways that it still has not started to appreciate.
In baseball, his statistics will always be eye-popping: if one removes his 755 home runs from his hit total, he still had more than 3000 hits. That is only the beginning of his importance in baseball history. I caught a glimpse once of how he carried himself as a person, which for me has long represented some of the reasons he could have that impact on American society far beyond his baseball card stats. I’ll tell that brief story below.
On April 8, 1974, Aaron hit the 715th home run of his career in Atlanta in the fourth inning of a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was a member of the Atlanta Braves and had been for two decades. His 715th homer broke a record for career home runs that had been set when Babe Ruth hit his final home run in 1935. (Aaron’s final record of 755 homers stood until 2007.)