Henry Aaron: 1934–2021

A personal memory of the all-time great.

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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.)
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Pandemic Diary 8: The Flat Curve

I could never hit the curve. Also, as if consistent physical incompetence was to be sole consistency that nature would bestow on me, I could not throw the curve, either.

Never athletic anyway, the absence of athletic ability from the start of my life was not a factor in any life decisions. And now, disabled as I am, almost every physical activity qualifies as athletic. (I walk a couple of miles each day because I can and ought to.) But I wanted to be a baseball player …
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Pandemic Diary 7: Below Par

I golfed for about two decades, and all of that time spent in frustration yielded perhaps a total of two anecdotes. That’s my only low score in relation to that fiendish and addicting game.

(I am no one’s father, but the “dad jokes” are growing stronger as I age. Perhaps they are better thought of as “Jokes When You’re Fifty.”)

Golf is a frustration because it is perhaps the one human endeavor which a person whose expertise consists of watching quite successful professional golfers ply their trade on television plunk a ball on a tee, swing a club, hit the ball any distance, and grow angry when the results are not the same as what he or she has seen on television. And I shared in that frustration.

I do not watch tennis and think I can play like tennis players do. I know that if and when I ever perform at a karaoke night (this happened most recently about twenty-five years ago) that I will sound like what I am: a person who does not sing in a way that makes any one want to hear me sing again. But golf? Anyone can swing a golf club, and I’m anyone, aren’t I?
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