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If you like Hank Aaron's story, you might also like:
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,
Yogi Berra,
Julius Erving,
Frank M. Johnson,
B.B. King,
Coretta Scott King,
Peyton Manning,
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Bill Russell,
Herschel Walker,
Lenny Wilkens
and Andrew Young

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Hank Aaron
Hank Aaron
Profile of Hank Aaron Biography of Hank Aaron Interview with Hank Aaron Hank Aaron Photo Gallery

Hank Aaron Interview

Home Run King

September 10, 2013
Turner Field, Atlanta, Georgia

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  Hank Aaron

It was 1972 when you began to close in on Babe Ruth's home run record, and you started receiving some hate mail. Why was there so much anger, do you think?

Hank Aaron: I don't know. There's two reasons you can look at.

Babe Ruth was an icon, really. You can say he was a white icon. And the other thing, I think that people had not readily accepted the idea that here is a black player that is in the major leagues, and he just got here -- and when I say just got here, five or six, ten years ago Jackie Robinson just got here -- and here he is challenging one of the most cherished records in all of sports. So you look at it two ways, you look at it and say, "A black player? Would they have done a white player like that?" I don't know. I don't think so. But I think that the reason that they did me like that is simply because of the fact that we were still trying to make our marks. We were still -- black players were still -- trying to come in and make their mark in the major leagues. And people were not, 90 percent of the people -- I wouldn't say 90 percent, I would say 50 percent -- of the people were not accepting that. And I was challenging a Babe Ruth record. "Oh no! That's not heard of!"

Even your children received threats. How did you cope with that? Were you angry? Disgusted? Were you afraid?

Hank Aaron: I was angry because of my kids, not myself. I was angry because they were not able to share in what I think was the greatest part of my life, as far as baseball. I was angry because of that. I was angry because of the fact that my daughter, who was at Fisk University, wasn't able to enjoy a college life. She had to stay on campus for three years. No matter where she went, she had to be escorted out, and to ballparks, wherever she wanted to go. My kids I had in private school -- I had two of my boys in private school -- they had to be backed off. That was the only reason. I was used to -- in some ways -- used to the other thing, but they were not able to enjoy some of the lifestyle that I had built for them.

That's terrible. People were threatening you and your children?

Hank Aaron: I had many, many, many death threats. I couldn't open letters for a long time, because they all had to be opened by either the FBI or somebody. I couldn't open letters. I had to be escorted. In fact, just recently I went to a funeral, Calvin Wardlaw, who was the detective -- the policeman -- with me for two years, passed away just recently. He and I got to be bosom buddies really, but that was the hardest part. I wasn't able to enjoy -- you know.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

You hit home run 714, tying Ruth's record, when you were in Cincinnati to open the 1974 baseball season. It was a count of three to one. What were you thinking as you trotted around the bases after matching that record?

Hank Aaron Interview Photo
Hank Aaron: I was thrilled and happy. I told the Cincinnati paper -- they asked me what I wanted to have -- and I said, "I would like for you to have a moment of silence for Dr. King."

They knew you were going to tie the record, right?

Hank Aaron: Yeah. They came to me and wanted to know what I wanted, and I said, "I'd like to have a moment of silence for Dr. King." And they said, "No we're not getting into that." They refused to do that, because of politics or whatever it was. But the Vice President was there, Gerald Ford.

They wouldn't do the moment of silence for Dr. King?

Hank Aaron: No, they wouldn't do it.

Didn't the Braves management try to keep you out of the away games because they wanted you to break the record here in Atlanta?

Hank Aaron: I think the Commissioner was listening to Dick Young, who was a sportswriter -- God rest his soul, he's no longer with us -- he was a sportswriter in New York. I think he was kind of listening to Dick Young, and I had had some problems before. Dick Young thought that I should have played every game, every inning, every moment, no matter what. And yet I played the opening game, and I hit the home run. Then they wanted to sit me out the next two games, and the Commissioner come in and said, "No, he's got to play two out of three games." So they made me play two out of three games. They also said if I didn't play, that Matthews, who was the manager at that time, would be serious... they would fine him something serious, and they would do something to me. Not do something, they were going to fine me also. And I said, "Umph!" I played two out of three games in Cincinnati, and then we come back here, and that's when I hit the home run -- because we had an off day -- and that's when I hit the home run.

Hank Aaron Interview Photo
Hank Aaron Interview Photo

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