LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – As news of Hank Aaron’s death made its way around the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, several baseball players competing in the celebrity division of the LPGA season opener took time to reflect on one of the great icons of American sport.
Aaron, the humble superstar who rose above racial prejudices to break Babe Ruth’s home run record, died in his sleep on Friday at age 86.
John Smoltz, one of several players in the TOC field connected to Aaron through the Atlanta Braves, said he never took for granted seeing the unassuming legend at spring training or the Braves’ stadium.
“There is not a superstar I’ve ever been around that, A, went through as much as he did, both in life and in the game,” said Smoltz, “and he just was a gentle guy that was there to say hello. You felt like you were in the presence of greatness every time you walked in.”
John Hart, former president of baseball operations for the Braves, played with a Hank Aaron glove in Little League and grew up to have an office next door to his childhood hero at both Turner Field and Truist Park. Hart called Aaron the executive both a friend and a mentor
“There are some guys with that type of talent who couldn’t, if you will, step back and run a minor league (system),” said Hart. “I’m going to deal with players who aren’t nearly as talented as I am. Or, I’m going to have all the answers. That was never Hank. Hank was not that guy. Compete? You betcha. He competed hard. He was tough. At the end he was authentically humbled and generous with his time, and he wanted to win.”
More from celebrity players on Aaron’s impact and legacy:
Tom Glavine, Hall of Fame pitcher for the Braves
“You know, I think one of the first encounters I had with Hank is when I was a minor leaguer with the Braves. He was in charge of player development, so you had some interaction with him from time to time and it was – obviously as a young player it was cool. Hank Aaron, Hall of Famer, one of the greatest of all-time.
“So casual conversation were OK. You never wanted to be called into Hank’s office. If you were, that meant you were going home. So you always try to avoid Hank’s office. You wanted the conversations to be away from his office.”
Aaron Hicks, Yankees outfielder
“I mean, he’s an icon in baseball. He’s a guy as a Black athlete, to be able to see somebody do that, you know, that looks just like me, is incredible.”
Greg Maddux, Hall of Fame pitcher for the Braves
“Yeah, I mean, you know, he kind of put Atlanta on the map. Everybody came to see him hit a home run, that’s for sure.
“I still remember him hitting that home run and running around the bases and seeing the fans just wanting to touch him and run the bases with him. That was a pretty special day. And he was definitely the face of the franchise.”
John Smoltz, Hall of Fame pitcher for the Atlanta Braves
“I think my memory of Hank is going to be twofold. It’s going to be at the Hall of Fame it was Hank Aaron, Joe Morgan and Frank Robinson. They all had walkers. They were coming to take a picture down at the end of the lawn like we do every year at the Hall of Fame. Somebody started announcing them coming down like a race.
“You could see each one had that little desire, and I think Hank turned it on at the end and I think he ended up winning. So that’s three iconic people obviously beat up by baseball and life, and we’re just going to miss them.”
John Hart, president of baseball operations for the Braves (2014-17)
“Hank came up in a very difficult era. He signed in the early 1950s, Jackie (Robinson) hadn’t really crossed the color barrier. It still was very tough. He had to play all through the Southern League and nobody knew who Hank Aaron was. He had to go in with a lot of other African-American players and go through a very difficult time to get to the big leagues. It was a different era. Hank, he just had that, ‘Look, I’m going to let my talent speak. I’m going to go with it.’
“In Atlanta, you go back to the history of civil rights and look at Dr. (Martin Luther) King, all of the Atlanta pieces, Ralph Abernathy, all of the people who were Atlanta people. Hank was a bastion for the movement and for equality. Hank was a big part of it. He was with the baseball team, he was living his life, but he was also a very good voice in his own authentic, humble way.”
Joe Carter, two-time World Series champion, five-time All Star
“You tip your cap to those guys, because they paved the way for guys like me. It’s something I’ll never take for granted. They were pioneers. Jackie Robinson. Hank Aaron. Satchel Paige. Those were guys you heard about, you knew about, and you followed them. That’s who the Black community followed.
“They are heroes and legends and they played the game the way that it was supposed to be played. … We all loved watching Hank. It’s a terrible day, Hank passing away. Unbelievable.”
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/01/22/hank-aaron-baseball-greats-lpga-diamond-resorts-legacy/