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The GOAT Has Passed

Hank Aaron autographed baseball

On Friday, the Atlanta baseball franchise released word that Henry “Hank” Aaron, the legendary outfielder who broke Babe Ruth‘s MLB career home run record in 1974, passed away at the age of 86.

Below is the video of Hammerin’ Hank’s record-breaking moment:

Adrian Burgos, Jr. sums up the historical relevance of Aaron’s contributions to North American professional baseball here:

Michael Harriot discussed the baseball relevance of the Hammer’s combined MLB and Negro Leagues numbers in light of MLB’s recent inclusion of Negro Leagues records into its official statistics:

I previously discussed some of Aaron’s GOAT feats as a MLB star in a blog post discussing my favorite MLB players who were living at the time. However, I failed to mention how he became MLB’s home run king while receiving a barrage of racist threats for daring to chase the record while Black. His achievements in the face of racism make his legacy bigger than the game.

Aaron’s Washington Post obituary includes the following thoughts he shared about his place in MLB history:

??I believed, and still do, that there was a reason why I was chosen to break the record,? he wrote in ??I Had a Hammer.? ??I feel it??s my task to carry on where Jackie Robinson left off, and I only know one way to go about it.?

It unfortunately took MLB decades to acknowledge Aaron’s legacy as one of the greatest players in MLB history. In 1999, MLB introduced the Hank Aaron Award to recognize the “best overall performer in each league” in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Hammer’s record-breaking moment. Recent winners include 2020 MVPs José Abreu and Freddie Freeman.

Following MLB’s introduction of the Hank Aaron Award, the US government recognized Aaron with the Presidential Citizens Medal, awarded by President Clinton in 2001, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the United States’ two highest civilian honors, awarded by President George W. Bush in 2002.

Hammerin’ Hank played for the Atlanta club for nearly his entire MLB career. The Cleveland franchise which, like Atlanta, uses a name referencing Indigenous peoples, recently announced its decision to rebrand beginning in the 2022 season. The Atlanta club still retains a racist name and has not announced any plans for a change. As originally suggested by writer Clinton Yates, Atlanta should pay tribute to its franchise legend by rebranding as the Atlanta Hammers. MLB’s greatest player deserves to have his former club named in his honor.

Featured Image: Hank Aaron autographed baseball by Darryl Brooks / Shutterstock.com.