Hank Aaron was without question one of the greatest baseball players who ever lived. When he died Jan. 22, it gave me a reason to look back on some of his absurd stats.
The first one that comes to mind for most people when Aaron is mentioned is 755, his career home run total. The crowning achievement of his career was when he surpassed Babe Ruth’s total of 714 to become baseball’s career home run leader. Even though Aaron’s record has since been topped by Barry Bonds, many people still think of Aaron as the home run king, due to Bonds’ use of steroids.
However, I think there are two other numbers that illustrate just how great Aaron was even better than his home run total. The first is 25, the number of times he made the All-Star team.
Now, for four years in the middle of Aaron’s career, Major League Baseball held two all-star games, both of which he made each year. But he still made at least one all-star game in 21 consecutive years, a record that will almost certainly never be broken.
The second number is 6,856, Aaron’s number of career bases. He is, unsurprisingly, the all-time leader in this category as well, more than 700 bases ahead of second-place Stan Musial. This is one of the most unbreakable records in baseball, as evidenced by how far ahead Aaron is.
These two numbers showcase two things: Aaron’s longevity and his production. Both of these made him one of the sport’s greatest players.
The most impressive things about Aaron, however, was the way he handled himself in the face of blatant racism. He made his debut seven years after Jackie Robinson shattered baseball’s color barrier, but racism was still commonplace in both baseball and the U.S. as a whole.
Aaron played the first 12 years of his career in Milwaukee, which was a relatively progressive city, at least for the time. However, prior to the 1966 season, the Braves moved to Atlanta, and Aaron became one of baseball’s first Black stars to play in the Deep South.
The 1960s were a time of massive racial upheaval in the U.S., but Aaron was still able to perform at a high level while facing constant harassment.
The height of this harassment came as Aaron approached Ruth’s career home run record. In 1961, as Roger Maris closed in on Ruth’s single season home run record, his hair began to fall out due to the stress. The fact that Aaron was able to chase and break a record as prestigious as the career home run record during a period of racial tension is incredible.
The story of Hank Aaron is the story of so many Black athletes who have persevered in the face of vicious racism. It is a story we have seen far too many times and continue to see today.
The bottom line is that Aaron’s death should serve as a reminder both of his greatness and of the fact that Black athletes have always had a steeper mountain to climb.
Will Cunningham is a sophomore studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk to Will? Tweet him @willocunningham.