Hank Aaron was one of the best baseball players we’ve ever seen and one of the strongest people I’ve ever met.
Whenever Michelle and I spent time with Hank and his wife Billye, we were struck by their kindness, generosity and grace—and were reminded that we stood on the shoulders of a previous generation of trailblazers.
A child of the Jim Crow South, Hank quit high school to join the Negro League, playing shortstop for $200 a month before earning a spot in Major League Baseball. Humble and hardworking, Hank was often overlooked until he started chasing Babe Ruth’s home run record, at which point he began receiving death threats and racist letters—letters he would reread decades later to remind himself “not to be surprised or hurt.”
Those letters changed Hank, but they didn’t stop him. After breaking the home run record, he became one of the first Black Americans to hold a senior management position in Major League Baseball. And for the rest of his life, he never missed an opportunity to lead—including earlier this month, when Hank and Billye joined civil rights leaders and got COVID vaccines.
Today, Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to the Aaron family and everyone who was inspired by this unassuming man and his towering example.
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