4/7/2014 4:04 P.M. ET
Aaron's legacy is worth celebrating for years to come
By Terence Moore / MLB.com
You can't celebrate the essence of Henry Louis "Hank" Aaron enough, but those who run the Braves will give it a splendid try.
In fact, they've already begun.
Since Spring Training, Braves players have worn a patch shaped like home plate on the right sleeve of their jerseys. In the middle of the patch is a trio of captivating items: "40th Anniversary," the number 715 and Aaron's autograph. It's all there to commemorate Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's home run record on April 8, 1974, at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
Even so, Braves president John Schuerholz told only part of the truth in February, when he announced the patch tribute by saying Aaron's chasing, catching and passing Ruth "deserves a season-long celebration."
Aaron deserves a centuries-long celebration.
If Aaron wasn't the greatest baseball player of all time when he finished his 23 Major League seasons in 1976 with the Brewers, he was 1b, sitting within a millimeter of whoever was 1a. He owned a slew of records (including Ruth's previous one for most home runs during a career), and he became prolific in the shadows as an executive in the game. Not only that, if Aaron saw ways for the national pastime to improve when it came to diversity, he wasn't exactly afraid to flap his tongue.
Folks listened to Aaron no matter what, because the easygoing gentleman from Mobile, Ala., was as graceful off the field as he was on it.
Even now, at 80, Aaron is a highly active retiree whenever his surgically repaired hip allows him to be. In addition to serving as a senior vice president for the Braves' organization that he has worked for as both a player and executive during most of the last 60 years, he is on the board of directors for several businesses.
Still, Aaron's primary focus has evolved into a wonderful obsession: his Chasing the Dream Foundation. He runs it with his wife, Billye, and the foundation helps disadvantaged youth between the ages of 9 and 12 pursue their interests in sports, as well as writing, art, dance and music.
That said, Aaron's legacy is eternally connected to how he responded during and after his pursuit of Ruth's ghost, which means everything about April 8, 1974, was huge. The Braves know it. So come Tuesday evening in Atlanta before the Braves' home opener against the Mets, team officials will do their best to honor the 40-year anniversary of the moment when Aaron did what previously seemed impossible by passing Ruth.
With Aaron in attendance at Turner Field, the first 45,000 fans will receive a commemorative poster of the guest of honor courtesy of a local bank. In addition, a gas station will give every 40th person who downloads its particular app and "checks in" to Turner Field" a $40 gift card. Then there will be the main event besides the game, which will be Aaron himself. This will be his first public appearance since he spent nearly a month in a rehabilitation center in Atlanta after slipping on ice in February and damaging a hip. There will be special guests, and there will be a video tribute to Aaron.
That's for starters.
On Thursday against the Nationals, the first 20,000 fans at Turner Field will receive a Hank Aaron bobblehead doll. And there also is the ongoing stuff. There is a statute of the guy in front of the ballpark. The high-rent area of the Braves' home features the 755 Club, whose name comes from the number of career homers that Aaron managed. Then there is the name of the primary street next to the ballpark -- Hank Aaron Drive. And much of this goes back to when he made 714 just another number.
Suddenly, with a flick of Aaron's quick wrists, 715 became the more significant number for the ages involving career home runs, and it happened during prime time on national television.
What the NBC TV cameras didn't show was that the setting began as a rainy night in Georgia. Literally. Then, before long, the skies cleared over Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, and Aaron sauntered to the plate before a stuffed house of howling supporters in the bottom of the fourth inning against the Dodgers' Al Downing.
Milo Hamilton said it best during his spine-tingling call for those listening on the Braves' radio network:
"Henry Aaron, in the second inning, walked and scored. He's sittin' on 714. Here's the pitch from Downing. Swinging. There's a drive into left-center field. That ball is gonna be ... outta here! It's gone! It's 715! There's a new home run champion of all time, and it's Henry Aaron!"
Barry Bonds is now the new home run champion of all time with 762, but his record is tainted by PED rumors.
Aaron's record was pure. So was his reputation.
Nothing has changed.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.