Like so many fans of the game of baseball, I’ve been taken back by the sudden passing of so many stars of the game in the past year. From Lou Brock and Bob Gibson to Whitey Ford and Tom Seaver. These individuals paved the way for so many young and aspiring players who embraced them as sports heroes and emulated their template for success. Whether it was Lou Bock’s ability to steal bases or Tom Seaver’s success as a pitcher, they each were significant in contributing to the game of baseball. But while we mourn these losses, we must now add two more to the list with Hank Aaron and Joe Morgan. Both players were admired for what they did on the field and were equally held in high regard for their off-field contributions.
There are many books that have been written on “Hammerin” Hank Aaron, and still, they couldn’t capture the magic of man. From humble beginnings, Henry “Hank” Aaron was born in Mobile, Alabama, in 1934, and his love of baseball started in the sandlots near his home. He started his pro career in the Negro League playing with the Indianapolis Clowns in 1952. From that notable club, he made his way through the minor leagues and left them at the age of 20 before debuting in the majors with the then-named Milwaukee Braves. Hank made his Major League debut, and it started his 23-year-career with the team. His first season saw him finish fourth in the rookie of the year voting as he hit .280 with 13 home runs and 69 RBIs. It was just the start of what would become one of the most legendary careers in baseball history.
Hank’s stats are amazing and noteworthy. On April 8, 1974, he crushed a 1-0 pitch from Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Al Downing over the left-field wall at Fulton County Stadium and broke Babe Ruth’s long-time home run record of 714 home runs. He was also a twenty-time All-Star and a three-time Gold Glove winner. Arguably, he showed his proficiency of the game when he finished his career in 1976 with 755 home runs, 3,771 hits, and a batting average of .308. He ended his illustrious career on October 3, 1976, and transitioned into a role with the Braves as director of player development, a position he held until 1989. He then became a senior vice president for the Braves, a title he held for decades.
Hank was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. He later received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush and was inducted as a Georgia Trustee by the Georgia Historical Society in 2010. In 2016, Hank was presented with the Order of the Rising Sun, one of Japan’s highest honors for his work with the World Children’s Baseball Fair.
There are just a few athletes synonymous with greatness with what they accomplished by just mentioning their name, and Hank Aaron fits that mold. He was a modest individual who was prone to letting his bat do the talking on the field. Although he and his family endured numerous racial threats, he stayed the course and played his game. He retired as a successful business owner in Georgia. Hammerin Hank passed away in December 2020 at age 86.
Joe Morgan was born in the small town of Bonham, Texas in 1943. Shortly thereafter, he and his family moved to Oakland, California. Baseball became all-encompassing for him and provided a way out of the naval yards and canneries. Joe began his baseball career at Castlemont High School before enrolling in Oakland City College. In 1962, he signed with the then Houston Colt 45’s and played in the organization for eight seasons before being traded To the Cincinnati Reds.
Morgan’s career culminated in becoming a ten-time All-Star and winning five Golden Globe Awards with the Reds. He also won two World Series Championships and was the Most Valuable Player in 1975 and 1978. In 1990, Joe was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. On a more personal note, I knew Joe through social circles as well as corporate business functions. He was always a gentleman and just a great guy to be around. Joe was also a charitable giver and donated to St. Jude and the American Cancer Society. Always a charitable giver, he donated to his favorite charities, St. Jude and the American Cancer Society. Joe passed away last year at age 77, and he will be missed.
And as we tip our hat, may both Joe and Henry Rest in Peace.