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Triple Play: Hank Aaron, Baseball’s Longtime Home Run King, Dies At 86




Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron attends the 2017 Hank Aaron Award press conference prior to game two of the 2017 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on October 25, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.
Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron attends the 2017 Hank Aaron Award press conference prior to game two of the 2017 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on October 25, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.
Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

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Hank Aaron, who endured racist threats with stoic dignity during his pursuit of Babe Ruth’s home run record and gracefully left his mark as one of baseball’s greatest all-around players, died Friday. He was 86. The Atlanta Braves, Aaron's longtime team, said he died peacefully in his sleep. No cause was given.

Aaron made his last public appearance just 2 1/2 weeks ago, when he received the COVID-19 vaccine. He said he wanted to help spread the message to Black Americans that the vaccine was safe. “Hammerin’ Hank” set a wide array of career hitting records during a 23-year career spent mostly with the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves, including RBIs, extra-base hits and total bases. But the Hall of Famer will be remembered for one swing above all others, the one that made him baseball’s home-run king.

It was a title he would hold for more than 33 years, a period in which the Hammer slowly but surely claimed his rightful place as one of America’s most iconic sporting figures, a true national treasure worthy of mention in the same breath with Ruth or Ali or Jordan. Before a sellout crowd at Atlanta Stadium and a national television audience, Aaron broke Ruth’s home run record with No. 715 off Al Downing of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Hall of Famer finished his career with 755, a total surpassed by Barry Bonds in 2007 - though many continued to call the Hammer the true home run king because of allegations that Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs. Aaron’s journey to that memorable homer was hardly pleasant. He was the target of extensive hate mail as he closed in on Ruth’s cherished record of 714, much of it sparked by the fact Ruth was white and Aaron was black.  

Today on AirTalk, we remember Aaron’s historic baseball career, his inimitable grace both on and off the field, and the trail he blazed for Black baseball players and athletes for generations to come.

With files from the Associated Press

Guests:

Nick Roman, host of KPCC’s “All Things Considered”; he tweets @RomanOnTheRadio

A. Martinez, host of KPCC’s “Take Two”; he tweets @amartinezLA