February is Black History month and as an African American, I understand what this month means to our culture. I wish instead of a month, the black culture and history was recognized everyday. People love to hear stories about people overcoming despair and impossible situations, and African American history is full of that. I am disappointed that our history in America begins with slavery and hundreds of years wretchedness but I digress. African Americans have made an impact in all areas of life but some of the biggest influences come from the sports world. When you watch sports today, especially the NBA and NFL, black players are the majority, but 50 years ago, they were truly the minority.
First I would like to give Hammerin Hank, who turned 81 today, a happy birthday. Hank Aaron goes down in history as one the greatest baseball players ever. He is definitely the greatest hitter ever, former holder of the most prestigious baseball record, most career home runs with 755. What makes that record so significant is because he hit all 755 bombs with pure talent; performance enhancement drugs wasn’t even created back then, you actually had to know how to swing a bat. Hank played 23 seasons in the Majors, 22 for the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves and his final season with the Milwaukee Brewers, never once hitting more than 50 home runs or 140 RBIs in a season but hold the career record for both. He also holds the record for most seasons with 30+ home runs (15) and ranks top 5 in both hits and runs. Like Jerry Rice, you need longevity to put up numbers like that but you also need to be consistent and that’s exactly what Aaron was. From 1954 to 1976, Hank played at a high level, career .305 hitter and broke Babe Ruth record of 714 home runs in 1974. Despite all these great numbers, Hank wasn’t a well liked player.
It was always a struggle for Hank who grew up in the south, born in Mobile, Alabama. After excelling in the high school ranks, he dropped out to play in the Negro League. He played for the Indianapolis Clowns, leading them to Negro League World Series in 1952 before being picked up by the Milwaukee Braves the following year. From then on he began his chase for Babe’s Ruth’s historic record. Like I said though, Hank still wasn’t a popular player, despite putting up astronomical numbers. The Braves would get thousands of fan mail for Hank, some showing appreciation and others showing hate. Some people couldn’t and didn’t want to understand that a black man was becoming the greatest player of America’s past time. When Hank officially broke the record in '74, death threats came in by the thousands. Today Hank is revered by everyone but in the black community he is looked at as a pioneer for black athletes in professional sports.