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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,
Lenny Wilkens
and Andrew Young

Related Links:
Baseball Hall of Fame
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Hank Aaron
Hank Aaron
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Hank Aaron Interview (page: 9 / 9)

Home Run King

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  Hank Aaron

What does the American Dream mean to you? Do you feel it was there for you to reach for when you were a young boy?

Hank Aaron Interview Photo
Hank Aaron: No, it wasn't. Let me put it this way. It wasn't there when I first started. Of course, Jackie Robinson coming in, being the first African American playing baseball, he kind of opened doors up and made the playing field a little bit level for everybody. I took advantage of it myself, players like myself, Willie Mays, and some of the other great black ball players. But no, it wasn't there at the time, and I think things are a lot better now.

We have to thank you athletes for opening the doors for so many other African Americans, and other people of color, because without what you did, that opened the eyes of the American people, maybe we would still be back where we were then. Do you think of it that way?

Hank Aaron: I feel like we made a contribution. When you start talking about the real dream, you start talking about Dr. King, of course, what he did. But I think athletes played a very important role in what America is today, no question about it.

In October 1972, Jackie Robinson died. He gave a talk in Cincinnati a couple of weeks earlier, and then went to the Oakland clubhouse to talk to the players. None of the black players paid any attention to him. Why?

Hank Aaron Interview Photo
Hank Aaron: I don't know. I can walk in the clubhouse sometimes and be shunned like that. I don't know. I wished I knew. I don't have an answer for that. I think about that quite often, even now. Even since they've done 42, the movie, I think about that. There is so much in Jackie's life that was not told, because they couldn't tell it all. I don't understand it, especially from black ball players.

Do you think they just live in the moment? They don't even think about history? Maybe they didn't know who he was.

Hank Aaron: I think the game itself meant an awful lot to them. This happened in Oakland, I believe. They just thought about the game. They weren't thinking about Jackie Robinson, they weren't thinking about his contribution or the role he had played, and the reason that they are in the big leagues. They didn't think about it. They just thought that one day they jumped up and they were in the minor leagues, and the next day they jumped up and they were in the major leagues. They didn't think there was somebody else, a foot soldier that paved the way for them to get where they should be.

There are so many athletes who had no savings or assets at the end of their athletic careers. At one point, prior to breaking the home run record, you were struggling financially because of bad advice and poor real estate investments. Yet here you are now, a very successful businessman. To what do you credit that?

Hank Aaron: Most African Americans and especially ball players come up, they don't have the knowledge of saving, what to do, and they don't have people to come to them and tell them how best to make an investment. I was no different than anyone else. We was busy trying to be part of what we called the American Dream. We didn't have time, and when I say, "Didn't have time," nobody never came to us and told us that, "We would like for you to invest here," or, "Do this, and do this," and "Save your money." So actually we were all guilty, myself along with the other black ball players. But the one thing that I think that helped me more than anything, I think that after playing for so long in Major League Baseball, I went through a period... I started when I was very young. Let me start back. I was fortunate enough to start playing when I was 18 years old. After graduating from high school, I started playing. I only spent a year-and-a-half in the minor leagues, and I got to the major leagues. So I was able to go through some periods of losing -- well it didn't make any money. I take that back, I didn't have anything to get rid of, because I didn't make any. I think it took me 10 years, after having great years, to even get to making 75,000 dollars. So I didn't really make any money. Really, I started making money probably when I started chasing Babe Ruth's record. I started signing on to do advertisements and things like that. But I wasn't blessed like a lot of ball players in New York City to make a lot of money.

It sounds like you weren't in it for the money. You were in it because you liked what you were doing.

Hank Aaron: Believe it or not, you can put it that way. I didn't know anything. I loved baseball. I loved the challenge, I loved the competition. I loved to outguess the pitcher. It was a great challenge. It was great for me.

Did you wish after the big hit, when you broke the record, did you ever wish that Jackie Robinson had been there to see you do that to break Babe Ruth's record? And what would you have said to him afterwards?

Hank Aaron: I think he was there in spirit, really.

I got to talk to Jackie many, many times before he passed away. In fact, when I signed my first contract with the Braves, I remember playing an exhibition game against the Dodgers, in a little city. In Memphis, Jackie, Camp, and Don Newcombe were all sitting in the hotel, in a room, and they were all playing cards. I was in the corner watching them. Just standing there, watching with my mouth wide open, trying to make myself realize, "Oh God, am I here?" And to watch these guys play? But to answer your question directly, I think after that, I remember him telling me that the one thing that you have to remember about baseball is that the only way that you're going to do something good for your team is that when you stand at home plate, make sure that you touch all the bases and get back to home plate, and that's when you're making a contribution to your team. He always said that. He always just said to just be humble at what you're doing, and try to give all you can, and everything that you can to the game. And that's what I've tried to do.

You end your autobiography with a quote from Jackie Robinson: "Life owes me nothing. Baseball owes me nothing. I cannot rejoice while the humblest of my brothers is down." What did that mean to you?

Hank Aaron: I felt like things had been good for me, but when I think about all of the other black players or other black people that are still down in the hole, hollering for help, that until they come out, all of them come out of their hole, and be able to have the playing field level, then none of us should be able to rejoice, because things is not that good.

Well said.

Hank Aaron: Thank you.

And thank you for speaking with us today..

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