Those wrists. Other players always talked about the strength of those wrists and forearms as they whipped a bat through the strike zone. What a sight they struck another pitch for a line drive base hit or an arc shot in the stands. Few – perhaps no one else – could swing a baseball bat like Henry “Hank” Aaron, who died this week at the age of 86.
Aaron is best known for breaking Babe Ruth’s record in the Major League on April 8, 1974. However, readers of a certain age remember him as one of the greatest overall winners of all time. Year after year he was one of the front runners in the loft, in runs and in home runs.
He did it in the time when the pitcher’s hill was higher and pitching was dominant. He also did it before the era of steroid use, which drove up the stats of many players who wouldn’t have hit 20 things a year in the days of Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson. It’s not nostalgia. It’s physics and biology.
Aaron’s record of 755 home runs was beaten by Barry Bonds more than three decades later, and “Hammerin ‘Hank” was gracious to Mr. Bonds when it happened. But lovers of the sport realize that the real record still belongs to the cute swinger who played for Milwaukee and then the Atlanta Braves for more than two decades.
Aaron’s march to break the baby’s record was marked by threats and racist hate mail, and he often said that made him all the more motivated. Growing up in Mobile, Ala., During the Jim Crow era of the 1930s and 1940s, Aaron admired Jackie Robinson for breaking the color barrier in the major leagues. With his baseball success, Aaron became a hero to a generation of youth of all races in the decades when baseball was America’s pastime.