I was sad to learn of the passing of Hank Aaron on January 22nd, and especially the idea that he might still be with us if not for COVID.
Aaron was one of my favorites growing up. He had that easy swing that managed to meet the ball just as his quick wrists turned on the pitch. He could hit ‘em far and often, and in my mind he’s still the Home Run king, because he did it without the help of steroids.
Aaron wasn’t just a home run hitter, he was a great baseball player. He hit for average, with a .305 lifetime average over 23 years in the big leagues. He was fast and was an excellent baserunner and he was also a terrific fielder. He’s one of the “no brainer” all-time greats.
When I first joined the paper back in 1974, Aaron had just broken Babe Ruth’s record for career home runs that spring. In July of that year I had taken a job as a part-time writer for the Salem Times-Register after moving from Pennsylvania, and planned a visit back home for when the Braves were in town. I wrote the Phillies for a pass and, to my delight, they approved my request.
My plan was to do a story on Hank Aaron. After watching the game from the press box I waited outside the Atlanta locker room with the other writers, waiting to be invited inside. The door swung open and everyone rushed in, and there was Hank sitting in front of his locker.
Talk about nervous! I’d only been on the job for a month and now I’m approaching one of my idols, Hank Aaron, to do an interview. I didn’t talk to him long, but got enough to write a short story while others fired questions as well. And, as I recall, he was very nice to everyone.
That was a long time ago, but a day I’ll always treasure. It was a brush with greatness that I never expected to have as a little kid who loved baseball.