Baseball legend Hank Aaron passes away at 86, relied on God as his strength

Hank Aaron, a Baseball Hall of Famer and former home run king, passed away Friday at the age of 86. He leaves behind a legacy marked by humility, kindness, perseverance and grace, on top of record-setting achievements on the field.

>> Subscribe to Sports Spectrum Magazine for more stories where sports and faith connect <<

Spending the majority of his career with the Braves, both in Milwaukee and eventually Atlanta, Aaron fought through racial prejudice as he passed Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record of 714. Aaron hit No. 715 on April 8, 1974, cementing arguably one of the most recognizable memories for any baseball fan.

He ended his career in 1976 with 755 career home runs, a record that stood until 2007, when Barry Bonds broke it.

As Aaron approached Ruth’s home run record, he began receiving so much hate mail that the Braves had to hire a secretary to sort through it all. He received so much mail — about 930,000 pieces and more than any other person that wasn’t a politician — that the United States Postal Service awarded him a plaque.

He also received praise for how he handled the bigotry and racist remarks hurled at him.

Even after Bonds controversially broke his record — Bonds later admitted to using performance enhancing drugs — Aaron was quick to congratulate him:

It was a record that Aaron hoped would be broken one day.

“I’m hoping someday that some kid, black or white, will hit more home runs than myself,” he said. “Whoever it is, I’d be pulling for him.”

While the home run record was broken, Aaron remains as the all-time leader in RBIs with 2,297 and was a 25-time All-Star selection — all of them in succession, and a that record stands as the most in history. He played 23 seasons, but between 1959 and 1962 there were multiple All-Star games. The only seasons he was not an All-Star were his first and last.

He’s the only player in baseball history to hit 20 home runs in 20 different seasons and is one of two players with 15 seasons of at least 30 or more home runs. He also finished with 3,771 hits, which puts him No. 3 all-time.

In December, Major League Baseball announced that the Negro Leagues would officially be recognized as Major League Baseball, meaning player statistics from those years will count toward their official numbers. That would bring Aaron’s home run total to 760 and would bump up his other statistics as well.

After his baseball career, he was a businessman — owning car dealerships and a chain of restaurants — and was also philanthropist. Throughout his career, Aaron was also a man of faith.

“I need to depend on Someone who is bigger, stronger and wiser than I am,” he wrote for Guideposts in 1973. “I don’t do it on my own. God is my strength. He gave me a good body and some talent and the freedom to develop it. He helps me when things go wrong. He forgives me when I fall on my face. He lights the way.”

Even as he approached the home run record and the fame and attention that came with it, he stayed true to himself.

“The Lord willing, I’ll set a new home-run record,” he wrote for Guideposts. “If I don’t, that’s okay too. I’ve had a wonderful time in baseball and have enough great memories to last two lifetimes. I have been blessed.”

In an interview with Chris Dimino in 2001 that appeared on the Hardball Podcast, Aaron said the night he hit the record-setting home run, he went home and prayed.
“The first thing I did was, of course, got on my knees and prayed. That’s No. 1,” he said. “I did that. And then I had friends over at the house.”

News of Aaron’s passing on Friday spread quickly over social media, and sports fans reminisced on the legacy of one of the game’s finest men.