Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Remembering Henry Aaron

with 6 comments

Last Friday morning, baseball Hall of Fame great Henry “Hank” Aaron passed away in his sleep. Aaron was many things in his lifetime: a phenomenal player, a good husband, a wonderful father, a great friend, and possibly most of all a humanitarian.

I never met Aaron, personally, but I remember going to one of his last games when I was quite young. This was in 1976. Aaron was 42 years old and a designated hitter for my hometown Milwaukee Brewers team, and it was cold, a bit rainy, and windy…when Aaron hit the ball over the fence, no one was sure if he had hit it fair or foul. To me, where I was, it looked fair. (No instant replay in the stadiums, back then.) But the umpire called it foul (no way to challenge that, back then, either), and that was that.

Aaron already had 755 home runs at that point, making him at that time the greatest home-run hitter in Major League Baseball history. But that near-miss home run is what sticks with me, mostly because Aaron didn’t complain. He didn’t yell at the umpire. He may have shaken his head a little, but he went back into the batter’s box and finished up his at-bat. (I think he struck out.)

Put simply, Henry Aaron was a class act.

Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel wrote an article today about a service held in Atlanta earlier today, where many different people spoke. (Some spoke by Zoom, some by recorded messages, and a few in person, as is proper during a pandemic.) Here’s one of the salient quotes from that article from Atlanta Braves chairman Terry McGuirk:

“He will always be known as our home run king,” McGuirk said. “For our organization, Hank was much more than those stats, much more than the greatest ballplayer of all time. He helped guide our organization ever since his playing days ended.

“Doing things the right way was one of his mantras. The saying on the front of today’s program, which is also on one of the pillars here, reads, ‘What you do with your life and how you do it, is not only a reflection on you, but on your family and all those institutions that have helped make you who you are.’”

I think that quote sums up what most of us are trying to understand in this lifetime. Think about it a little bit: “What you do with your life and how you do it is not only a reflection on you, but on your family and all those institutions that have helped make you who you are.” This, in one pithy saying, gets to the heart of the matter: we are who we are because of what we’ve learned, because of the people we’ve come into contact with, and because of our own efforts (the phrase “have helped make you who you are” is key in that).

Henry Aaron was 86, and lived a good, long, honorable life. He was a tremendous player — even in 1976, his final year as a player, it was obvious that everyone on the field had great respect for him. The stats can’t possibly show his value and worth as a human being, though…only those who knew him, and of his philanthropic nature, and of his wish to lift others up as he, himself, had been lifted along the way, can fully know that.

But what I know is this: We lost a wonderful person when Henry Aaron passed away.

We truly did.

Now, all we can do is remember his mantra (as stated, above, by McGuirk) and live every day the best way we can. (Or, to go back to my blog about the John Wesley saying, “Do all the good you can, for as long as you can, for as many you can.” That’s my paraphrase, but I hope it works.)

And if you’re able, do one small thing every day to better someone else’s life…just ’cause it’s the right thing to do. I think Henry Aaron would approve of that — and I, myself, definitely do.

6 Responses

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  1. I never got to see him play. Wish I could have. And wow – hadn’t thought about no instant replay, but I actually remember when that got started. I think there was a comment on one game that maybe someday umpires and referees would use this to settle decisions. It was created for sports fans watching on TV, because it enabled them to deeply discuss the play by play. Its usefulness for umps has certainly proven true!

    Kayelle Allen

    January 27, 2021 at 7:48 am

    • I think you’d have enjoyed seeing him play. He did hit his 715th HR in Atlanta (he was a Milwaukee Brave, then an Atlanta Brave, for most of his career; only the last two years were with the Milwaukee Brewers), and he was a 25-time All-Star (some years, back then, there were two All-Star games, so that’s how that happened in a 23-year career). He was a very good outfielder in his day, with a strong arm; I have seen some of his older games on black and white TV tapes, and he deserved his Gold Gloves (he won three of them) for excellent fielding.

      Aaron was one of those folks who strived for excellence every single day, and most of the time lived up to that. And he was humble, too…at the time he played (most of it, anyway), players had to take jobs in the off-season because they didn’t make that much during the season. Even huge stars like Aaron still had to have jobs in the off-season…and I think that’s part of why he remained so approachable. (But that’s just my best guess, because he may have well been just one of those folks who’s approachable and humble no matter what their life circumstances are.)

      And yes — instant replay has been a Godsend. I think, personally, that he did hit a home run that day over the left field foul pole. But because there was no way for anyone to check (this was one of the final games of the season at old Milwaukee County Stadium, and one of the last of Aaron’s storied career), and because I don’t think there were any TV cameras that day paying attention, I’ll never know for sure.

      Barb Caffrey

      January 27, 2021 at 6:13 pm

  2. Very touching and deep tribute Barb.


    January 27, 2021 at 12:34 pm

    • Thanks, Roger. Henry Aaron was a legend, truly, but he also was a very good man. As I just wrote to Kayelle, Aaron played during a time where they didn’t make big money; even huge stars like him didn’t make big money, so they had jobs in the off-season and stayed in the towns they played for to work.

      One of the things I couldn’t figure out how to get into my blog was that I started reading widely partly because I wanted to read more about baseball, including the life of Henry Aaron. He was so interesting to me; he first learned to bat cross-handed, meaning the opposite hand was underneath rather than on top. (You don’t want to do this because most people can’t control the bat that way.) He still hit a ton even batting the wrong way! And he didn’t start out as an outfielder, either; like current Brewers player Ryan Braun, he started as an infielder and had to learn how to play the outfield as he went. (In Aaron’s case, they sent him to play winter ball in Puerto Rico, and gave him excellent coaching. In Braun’s case, they had him work with coaches and players, including the soon-to-depart Geoff Jenkins (one of the best outfielders in the National League at that time, and also an excellent hitter), and by the second season of Braun playing full-time in the outfield, he was assured and skilled. (And, naturally, retained his strong arm.)

      Anyway, Aaron’s life always resonated with me, and he faced challenges akin to Jackie Robinson’s in his minor-league playing career (though he started in the Negro Leagues, after the Braves signed him he was sent to the minors), including overt racism. He didn’t face this in Milwaukee, and I’m glad of it.

      Barb Caffrey

      January 27, 2021 at 6:19 pm

      • That sounds incredible, although I admit not having much knowledge of baseball, I have to try and convert that to soccer parallels.
        Indeed anyone who judges a person simply by race, religion or gender is a classic idiot.


        January 28, 2021 at 3:55 am

      • They certainly are, Roger. 🙂

        Barb Caffrey

        January 29, 2021 at 12:08 am

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