By: Ned Reynolds
When the press issued that very sad news bulletin on Friday, Jan. 22, notifying the world of the passing of a remarkable man, not to mention athlete, Henry Aaron, the memories almost immediately cascaded on this old man.
From that summer night in 1955 when my dad took my brother and I to old Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia to see the Phillies take on this new challenger in the National League, the Milwaukee Braves and their youthful sensation, Henry Aaron. To the multitude of times we all saw him during the height of his Hall of Fame career, to that night in 1973 when the Royals Stadium crowd rose as one to cheer the presence of baseball’s future home run champion at the All Star Game in Kansas City, that really only etches the cover of the Henry Aaron memory bank.
I was watching an interview over the weekend with Mr. Aaron, conducted several years ago, and one couldn’t help but be so impressed with the manner and courtly presence he exuded. But over and above the visceral reflection was the calm and considered attitude on which he reflected his life and career, an impact on millions.
“When fans are attending a game and it doesn’t matter what’s the sport,” declared Hammerin’ Hank, “they’re cheering for their team. It doesn’t make any difference who the players are, black, white or whatever, the fans want their team to win. And that’s how we all should live every day, as a team. That’s how we win.”
The 1982 Cooperstown Hall of Fame inductee also revealed his secrets to success which he emphasized are not just his, but in fact should apply to everyone. The icon, known in baseball circles as “bad Henry,” added that in his opinion, too many of the young individuals arriving in today’s workforce aren’t willing to spend the time learning the fine points of their craft whatever the choosing, but seem to think they should start “at the top” and immediately succeed. He also added that in every workforce instance, the “playing field should be level for everyone.”
Consistency? Henry Aaron would know something about that. Sure, everyone knows about the 755 career home runs … a mark many still regard as the best, Barry Bonds not-withstanding. But, how many realize that Henry Aaron is baseball’s all-time RBI leader with 2,297. He is one of only 32 players in history to collect over 3,000 career hits at 3,771. He is the only player ever to be named to 25 All Star Games. And in his storied home run records, Mr. Aaron never hit more than 47 in a single season. That’s the consistency of a champion.
And, of course, he earned millions of dollars, right? Wrong! This son of a farmer in the Alabama countryside near Mobile, who described himself as “a vegan” because vegetables were “all the family could afford,” was paid $240,000 dollars a year at the end of his career. What would he command today?
Yes, life does go on; but the presence, manner, poise and intellect of Henry Aaron will truly be missed. He experienced everything life threw at him, much of which was most unpleasant, but he overcame it all. His impact speaks for itself. Think about it. Think about what it takes to be a real champion.
Rest in peace Bad Henry.