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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,
Willie Mays,
Bill Russell,
Herschel Walker,
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and Andrew Young

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Hank Aaron
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Hank Aaron Interview (page: 4 / 9)

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  Hank Aaron

You batted cross-handed as a young player. Why is that, and when did you stop?

Hank Aaron: Because nobody taught me any different. Cross-handed means I was doing everything backwards. I was taking my left hand and putting it on top of my right hand and trying to swing this way instead of swinging that way. Nobody ever taught me any different, and I was doing pretty well, so I just continued to do things the wrong way!

Is there a wrong way and a right way?

Hank Aaron: Yes, that was definitely a wrong way. I don't think you can go very far by stacking your hand this way, because the higher you get in baseball the more pitchers are going to be able to jam you with certain pitches. You wouldn't be able to get around on inside pitches.

In the 1940s, it was against the law for black and white kids to play baseball together in Alabama. Could you tell us about your memories of Carver Park in Mobile, and why it was important in your life?


Hank Aaron: Carver Park was centrally located in the black section. I never played with a white player until I got to Eau Claire, to be honest with you. When I got to Eau Claire -- and Eau Claire was the farm club of the Braves, as a Class C ball club -- that was the first time I ever played with white players. Before then I played in the Negro League, and before that I played in Carver Park, which was all black. So I never had the experience of playing with white players until I got into professional baseball.


Jackie Robinson came to Mobile in 1948, when you were 14 years old. Could you tell us about that experience? What did Jackie Robinson say to you?

Hank Aaron: Actually, he said nothing to me, because I was scared! But I remember when he came there with the Dodgers, and I'm almost sure he spoke at one of the grocery stores there. I remember skipping school -- which I did often -- skipping school to go hear him talk. He was just talking about his experience in baseball, and what those of us who wanted to pursue baseball should be looking out for. He was delivering the same type of message that I deliver really. I tried to talk about shortcuts, he tried to talk about shortcuts.

The Brooklyn Dodgers held a tryout camp in Mobile for black players in the summer of 1951. What happened there?


Hank Aaron: Well I was -- you can say I was a little bit skinny. Weighed about... I guess I weighed about a hundred and... I might have weight 110 pounds, you know, and they had other players there that weighed more than me and had better... could hit the ball a little bit further, and I didn't get a fair shake. They said, well, when I got to the camp to workout, they just thought I was too small, and they just brushed me aside, you know, and said, "You come back later on."


But you weren't crushed by that experience. You had the determination to come back.

Hank Aaron: I was not crushed. I was a little disappointed, of course. I felt like my mark was not made. I had done well, but the other players who got a chance over me had done much better than I had. I was living in an area where I didn't get any notoriety at all. I mean I was playing baseball and doing well, but these other kids were playing in "Down the Bay," as they call it, and they were getting a little bit more notoriety than I was.

A little later, you received a contract with the Indianapolis Clowns, and were asked to meet the team for spring training in North Carolina. You were only 18 years old. Were you frightened to leave home? Were you nervous when you got on that train?


Hank Aaron: I was frightened and nervous! I don't really know, I really don't know how I made it. I remember my oldest sister, who is no longer with us, and my mother carrying me to -- when I say carrying me, they walked with me -- to the train station, put me on the train, and I had a little bag with one pair of pants, and my mother had fixed me two sandwiches, and I had -- I think it was two dollars in my pocket. And she told me this is all she had. And my sister told me -- she kissed me -- and she said, "Just do the best you can."


That was a big step to take.

Hank Aaron Interview Photo
Hank Aaron: So I got on the train. Yes, I was nervous, scared, and didn't know where I was going really. I'd never been on the train before in my life. I think that train carried me to almost to Durham. Somewhere in tobacco country, I remember that. I remember I had to get off of the train and transfer to another one, and I had to ask five people where I needed to go, because I didn't know where to go. To answer your question, I was really scared.

When you started out, only six of the 16 Major League Baseball teams had broken the color barrier. The Negro National League is only a memory now. Tell us about the importance of the Negro Leagues to players like Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige.

Hank Aaron: It was probably one of the greatest minor leagues that you could have. I came from there, Willie came from there, Ernie Banks came from there, Gene Baker came from there, and Jackie Robinson, Campanella, Don Newcombe. It was a feeding ground.


When you talk about the Negro League, it was a feeding ground for the major leagues. I don't know that I would have been in the big leagues if I had not had the experience of playing in the Negro League. Some people say, "Well, what class of ball would you put it at?" And I would say that the Negro League probably was, I would say a high A ball. I had the experience of playing in that league for -- I don't know -- a couple of months. But so many other players -- Ernie Banks played there, and he went from there to the major leagues. Gene Baker did the same thing. Jackie Robinson I think stayed in the minor leagues for a year-and-a-half. Campanella, Don Newcombe, all these guys came through that league to get to the big leagues. And they were polished. They knew how to play the game. I knew, I learned an awful lot from playing in that league, simply because of the fact I played with the older players, players that knew how to play the game, and all of those things rubbed off on me. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and how I did, when the situation came about.

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Did it scare you to leave an environment that you felt comfortable in, all black players, and move into a situation that you did not know?

Hank Aaron: Oh yes, it scared me. I didn't know what to expect.


When I left the Negro League and went to Eau Claire to play with the Eau Claire Bears, I had absolutely no earthly idea where I was going, what I was going to do, where I was going to. I don't know. I didn't know how to accept it, really. But when I got there, Eau Claire, and put my uniform on, and got on the baseball field, and when I walked out and I got my first base hit, the fans kind of took to me, really, and it was the greatest experience that I had ever had. I played a half year at Eau Claire and a full year at Jacksonville. I say I had more fun at Eau Claire than I had at Jacksonville.


Was there one black face in the crowd as you looked out and they were cheering for you there?

Hank Aaron: Didn't see a one. I don't know. I think I only saw one black face in the whole city of Eau Claire.

But they loved you?

Hank Aaron: The fans? I got along with the fans well. In fact, I had a family that always talked to me and said, "Whenever you want to come by and have dinner, come by our house." And I used to go by there quite often and have dinner with them. Yes.

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