It has been 45 years since Hank Aaron became baseball’s all-time home run leader, a tittle he held for more than three decades. At the age of 85, “Hammering Hank” still has an impact on the game he loves.
On Aug. 2, the 44 young Black players who were selected to play in the inaugural Hank Aaron Invitational exhibition game at Suntrust Field, home of the Atlanta Braves, embarked on a civil rights tour of Atlanta that included the home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the King Center and King’s former church, Ebenezer Baptist.
The evening was capped off with surprise appearance by Hank Aaron himself. From his wheelchair, he addressed the room.
He recounted the terror he faced during his life due to the color of his skin. From hiding under his bed as a boy because the Ku Klux Klan was at his door to having death threats made against him as he pursued Babe Ruth’s 715 home run mark.
The death threats got so bad, Aaron’s own teammates would not even sit with him.
“The last four or five days were probably the toughest days of my baseball career,” Aaron told the Associated Press. “After it was over with, my wife and I … prayed and thanked the Lord for blessing me with that moment.”
Jerry Royster, who was in the opposing dugout that night, shared his memory with the teenagers as he served as one of the coaches for the event.
Royster told the AP, “I jumped up so high I hit my head on the top of the dugout.”
The players were selected from a pool of 250 players that participate in the Hank Aaron Invitational in July and August at Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida.
The event aimed to showcase and educate high school players with diverse backgrounds on the next level of the game. The players are also being educated on college eligibility and other information concerning advancement in professional and collegiate levels of baseball.
Only 7.7% of the MLB are African-American players. As a comparison, 74.4% of the NBA are African-American players.
Hank Aaron Invitational, week ✌️ pic.twitter.com/MdQcmnm1hl
— MLBDevelops (@MLBDevelops) July 29, 2019