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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,
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and Andrew Young

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  Hank Aaron

It was a scout named Dewey Griggs of the Boston Braves who discovered you, wasn't it?

Hank Aaron: Dewey was a scout for the -- then Boston -- Braves. Of course Milwaukee turned up later. The thing about Dewey Griggs is that he signed Henry Aaron, he signed Johnny Logan, he signed Frank Torre, Joe Torre, Don McMahon. All of these players that he signed got to the big leagues. He was one of their super scouts. How did he manage to pick me? I still feel grateful and thankful, but I came in there too. He signed me, and he signed one or two other black players.

He saw real talent when he saw you.

Hank Aaron: Well thank you.

A few years before, the Braves almost signed another player, Willie Mays from the Birmingham Black Barons, but instead he signed with the New York Giants. You almost signed with the Giants too.

Hank Aaron: I did.

How did you decide what to do?

Hank Aaron: Only because of dollars. Not big dollars...

I think it was 200 dollars or 100 dollars more that the Braves was giving me than the Giants. We almost were teammates, Yet I look back, I'm so thankful and grateful. I would have loved to have had a career with Willie -- Willie and I in the outfield -- but playing in Milwaukee was the greatest experience I ever had in my life. Really, it was so rewarding to me, because when I got to the big leagues I made a lot of mistakes, a lot of mistakes. Bunting with runners on third base, and running when I shouldn't have been running. And the fans never booed me. Never, never once booed me. So I just am grateful that I had a chance to play in Milwaukee.

That's great to hear. When you reported to the Braves you had your first plane ride, the one to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and you received a signing bonus. Was that a big deal?

Hank Aaron: And I didn't get one nickel of the signing bonus!

Who got it?

Hank Aaron Interview Photo
Hank Aaron: I think Sid Pollock, who owned the Indianapolis Clowns at the time, got all that. I was under contract with him. And the bonus, whatever it was -- 5,000, 10,000 -- it was a bonus that each step that I went, from Class A to Double A, they would give him so much money, so much of the 10,000 dollars. But I didn't get anything. I didn't get one nickel. The only thing that I got out of the whole deal was a cardboard suitcase, back when they made cardboard cases. I remember going to Eau Claire when it was raining, and when I got off the plane with my cardboard suitcase, I didn't have anything in my hand but a handle!

Did they give white players any more than that?

Hank Aaron: Oh, back then you didn't get bonuses. They probably got a little more than black players, of course. No question, but I don't think that the money was very plentiful.

In 1953 you played in Jacksonville for a Braves farm club in the old "Sally" (South Atlantic) League. You broke the color line there. What are your memories of those days? How were you received in Jacksonville?

Hank Aaron: It was hard, it was hard, it was very, very hard, but it was typical of a Southern city. I had problems all over the league. I played there with Felix Mantilla, who was a Puerto Rican, and another player named Horace Garner, who was much older than the two of us, and we never stayed at the hotel. We had to stay at private homes. We didn't stay at hotels on the road, we had to stay at private homes. So we didn't enjoy the luxury of playing like some of the white players. But it was a great time for me. I led the league, I say. I always tell people I led the league in everything but hotel accommodation! But I had a great year. I led the league in everything. Batting, running, runs batted in, and so forth. That was a stepping stone for me, going from Class A to the big leagues.

When your team clinched the Sally League pennant, there was a party to celebrate. Could you and the other black players go to that party?

Hank Aaron: No, we didn't. None of us.

You know we were still playing in the South. We couldn't enjoy anything that some of the white players would make. In fact, when we played in the Sally League, the bus would drive to, say like to Montgomery, and they would let the white players off at the hotel, and they would take us to... we would have to go out, out off the bus and get the cab, and find a cab to go to the hotel -- not the hotel but the rooming house -- where we stayed at.

Can you remember what that felt like?

Hank Aaron Interview Photo
Hank Aaron: I don't know how I felt really. It was hurting, very degrading. It felt like you were not part of the team. It felt like you were a second class citizen. But you felt like you had to do it in order to make things easier for somebody coming behind you. Even the most humbling situation, you knew that whatever you did, that tomorrow things were going to be better.

Did you have any friends among the white players on the team? Did any of them express disappointment about the kind of things you were having to endure, as a player who just happened to be a different color?

Hank Aaron: I did. I had a very good friend named Joe Andrews who lived in Boston, Massachusetts. He was probably one of the first bonus players that ever played. Joe and I were very good friends. He's no longer here. He's deceased, but he and I were very good friends. He and I got along very, very well. In fact, he was the only one that, no matter what we did, he would come and be by our side. He was great. In fact, even after I got to the big leagues and he opened up an automobile place, I used to go to Boston, Massachusetts quite often to visit him. He was a very good friend of mine.

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