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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
Hank Aaron
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Hank Aaron Interview (page: 7 / 9)

Home Run King

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  Hank Aaron

You must have played in Washington when it was still segregated. Do you remember trying to go to a restaurant while you were there?

Hank Aaron: That was when I played in the Negro League. We played one game in Washington and were going to play a doubleheader in Baltimore. So we had to eat in a restaurant in Washington. So they fed us, and then they broke all the dishes, yes.

They broke the dishes?

Hank Aaron: They broke the dishes.

How did you know?

Hank Aaron: We could hear them breaking them up. Carrying them back in the back, breaking them up. We could hear that.

Incredible. In 1957, it was a magical year for you and the Milwaukee Braves. You must have dreamed of a moment like this, an eleventh inning home run to beat the Cardinals and win the pennant. Your teammates carried you off the field. Why were those moments such a treasure to you?

Hank Aaron: Here, a little black kid from Mobile, Alabama who has hit a home run to clinch a pennant for the Milwaukee Braves and was carried off the field. And yet, about a mile... No, not a mile! What am I talking about? I would say, in the other part of the country, not the city. In Little Rock -- I'm going to get it right -- where a black kid was trying to go to school and had to be escorted by marshals into a school. So that was the thing that was so ironic about that. Here I was, a black kid that hit the home run and was carried off the field by white teammates on their shoulders. And yet a little black -- what, two, three, five, six, or seven years old, 12 years old -- was escorted into school by marshals. So that was the thing that was so ironic about that. The home run was great, but yet it still was part of a... You think about it and you say, "Although this is great for baseball, but other parts of the country, it's sickening when you see things like this happening."

When the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1965, we've heard that you felt like you would be on trial there, and that you needed a decisive way to win over white people. Do you feel that move to Atlanta worked for you? Some people say you had a hand in bringing Atlanta into the modern era.

Hank Aaron: Well, that part I don't know! Playing in Milwaukee for so long, I felt like this would never happen in the South. In order for the people to realize that I was as much a part of the team as anybody else, I needed to win them over by hitting home runs, by doing something that they would enjoy. I felt like hitting home runs would do it, and it did. I don't know how many home runs I hit the first year -- I think 55 or 40, somewhere thereabouts -- but I did, and it won a lot of fans.

What did you learn from Satchel Paige and the other old-timers?

Hank Aaron: Satchel and I -- he was before my time of course -- but I happened to play with him the last part of his career, thanks to Bill Bartholomew, who was the Chairman of the Board and owned the ball club at the time. He brought him back so he could be eligible to collect his pension. I got to know him pretty well. Very smart, very wise man, very smart. Just was saddened that he didn't play in the big leagues a lot longer than he could have, simply because of the color of his skin. But he talked an awful lot about -- he did a lot of bragging, bragging, bragging and he could brag, because from what I gather from other black ball players who played with him, they say he was probably one of the greatest pitchers that ever toed the rubber. Very, very, very knowledgeable of the game. Even at his age, and I think Satchel must have been somewhere close to the last year -- I'm talking about the year that I played with him -- that he came back to the league, he must have been in his 70s. And at that time -- and I'm not exaggerating, Satchel could still throw the ball very, very well -- and for someone to be out there catching the ball and throwing it as well as he did, that tells me one thing. If he had been given the opportunity to play like everybody else, he'd have probably did wonders.

In 1969, you had a historic day at Crosby Field in Cincinnati. Tell us about your 3,000th hit, and its importance to you.

Hank Aaron: I'm so thankful that the one great person who was there, the person that I admired so much, was Stan Musial. Stan came, and he didn't have to be there. Nobody paid his way. He paid his own way to come there, and he come there to see me get my 3,000th base hit, and that was the greatest. That was one of the greatest thrills I've had in my lifetime in baseball. Later on in my career, Stan and I, Joe Torre, Mel Allen, and Harmon Killebrew visit Vietnam. We stayed over there for three-and-a-half weeks or more, all of us, and Stan and I was roommates. I mean, he and I was roommates. It's a funny thing. I tell this story because Stan, somebody had given him -- or he had bought -- a Kodak camera, one of these high, high cameras. Nobody knew how to use it but Stan. I don't think Stan knew how to use it! And I remember going on these wild cases, and Stan would be clicking pictures and taking all kinds of pictures. And I told Stan, I said, "Stan, now you make sure when you get a copy of this, I want to get a copy of these pictures." And the next time I saw Stan Musial, I said, "Stan, did you get a copy?" He said, "No, I didn't get anything but the floorboard of a helicopter!" But that was Stan. He was such a wonderful person. Such a great ball player, but just a wonderful human being.

It's so beautiful that that's what you remember about that 3,000th hit, that he was sitting there.

Hank Aaron Interview Photo
Hank Aaron: He came out on the field and shook my hand.

Was he your hero?

Hank Aaron: Oh, yes. Stan was always a very good friend, not only one of my heroes. Along with Jackie Robinson and some of the great black ball players, but Stan was right in the middle of them. I don't know what you would call him, he was just Stan Musial.

"Stan the Man."

Hank Aaron: "Stan the Man." He was a great hitter, a great ball player. I'll tell you another story, and this is a true story. I tell this often, but I don't know whether people believe it or not.

My first All-Star Game in Milwaukee, Stan and I was on the bench along with Willie, We eventually won the game in extra innings. But I remember Stan Musial, Stan hit the home run to win the pennant -- I mean to win that game. I remember Stan walking up and down on the dugout, and he said, "Well, boys. They don't pay us enough money to play extra. I might as well go up here and hit a home run." And sure enough, goes up and hits a home run, out of the ballpark.

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