Hank Aaron "passed away peacefully in his sleep," the Atlanta Braves confirmed on Friday

By Maria Pasquini
January 22, 2021 12:16 PM
Advertisement
Hank Aaron
Hank Aaron
| Credit: Bettmann/Getty

Baseball legend Hank Aaron has died. He was 86. 

The Hall of Famer and former Atlanta Braves player "passed away peacefully in his sleep," the Atlanta Braves confirmed in a statement on Friday. 

"We are absolutely devastated by the passing of our beloved Hank. He was a beacon for our organization first as a player, then with player development, and always with our community efforts," Braves Chairman Terry McGuirk wrote in the statement. 

"His incredible talent and resolve helped him achieve the highest accomplishments, yet he never lost his nimble nature. Henry Louis Aaron wasn't just our icon, but one across Major League Baseball and around the world," he added. "His success on the diamond was matched only by his business accomplishments of the field and capped by his extraordinary philanthropic efforts." 

Continuing, McGurik wrote, "We are heartbroken and thinking of his wife Billye and their children Gaile, Hank, Jr., Lary, Dorina and Ceci and his grandchildren."

Aaron's legacy was also celebrated by former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

"Hank Aaron was one of the best baseball players we've ever seen and one of the strongest people I've ever met," Obama wrote in a statement. "Humble and hardworking, Hank was often overlooked until he started chasing Babe Ruth's home run record, at which point he began receiving death threats and racist letters—letters he would reread decades later to remind himself 'not to be surprised or hurt.' "

"Those letters changed Hank, but they didn't stop him. After breaking the home run record, he became one of the first Black Americans to hold a senior management position in Major League Baseball. And for the rest of his life, he never missed an opportunity to lead—including earlier this month, when Hank and Billye joined civil rights leaders and got COVID vaccines," Obama continued. "Today, Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to the Aaron family and everyone who was inspired by this unassuming man and his towering example."

In his own statement, Bush wrote, "Laura and I are saddened by the passing of Hank Aaron. The former Home Run King wasn't handed his throne. He grew up poor and faced racism as he worked to become one of the greatest baseball players of all time."

"Hank never let the hatred he faced consume him. Henry Louis Aaron was a joyful man, a loving husband to Billye, and a proud father of six children who will deeply miss him," he continued. "Laura and I send them our condolences and our thanks for sharing this great man with our country."

"With the passing of Hank Aaron, baseball has lost one of its greatest heroes, America has lost an inspiring role model and philanthropist, and I have lost a wonderful friend," Clinton wrote in his statement. "After retiring, Hank was an important fixture in Atlanta's civic life, as he and his wife, Billye, continued to advocate for civil rights and create opportunities for underprivileged young people to pursue their dreams."

"I first met him during my 1992 campaign, when on the weekend before Election Day he appeared with me at an event in Atlanta.  There were 25,000 people there, and three days later I carried Georgia by 13,000 votes. For the rest of his life, he never let me forget who was responsible for my win in Georgia," he continued. "Hillary and I send our thoughts and prayers to Billye, their family, and the countless people whose lives he touched—by his bat, his caring gifts, and his friendship. Hank Aaron's entire life was a home run."

Aaron was recently seen in public getting the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, and encouraged Black Americans to do the same. (Before being released to the public, vaccine-makers went through large, lengthy clinical trials to ensure that their product is completely safe. On Sept. 8, nine of the leading vaccine makers — including Pfizer and Moderna — signed a pledge vowing to follow "high ethical standards" and not rush a vaccine into production before it is proven to work.)

"I don't have any qualms about it at all, you know. I feel quite proud of myself for doing something like this," he told the Associated Press at the time. "It's just a small thing that can help zillions of people in this country."

"I was proud to get the COVID-19 vaccine earlier today at Morehouse School of Medicine," he added on social media. "I hope you do the same!

Hank Aaron
Hank Aaron
| Credit: Louis Requena/MLB via Getty
Hank Aaron
Hank Aaron
| Credit: Getty

Before earning his claim to fame as the "Home Run King" for breaking Babe Ruth's record, Aaron played for the Negro American League's Indianapolis Clowns in 1951.

He made his major league debut at only 20 years old with the Milwaukee Braves and eventually claimed the Northern League's Rookie of the Year Award.

In his second season with the Milwaukee Braves — which later became the Atlanta Braves — Aaron hit 27 home runs, a number of which only increased throughout his career.

According to NBC-affiliate WXIA, Aaron hit 700 of his record-breaking 755 home runs from 1955 to 1973 and surpassed Babe Ruth's record of 714 home runs in April 1974.

hank aaron
Hank Aaron
| Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty

Aaron has earned nearly every title in the book — he was the National League MVP in 1957, one-time world champion, two-time National League batting champion, three-time Golden Glove winner, four-time RBI champion and four-time home run champion.

Not to mention he represented the Braves at the All-Star games 25 times, a record that remains untouched.

Aaron retired in 1976 and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame six years later.