After over six decades of friendship, Bud Selig said goodbye to Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, who passed away at 86 on Friday.
The Commissioner Emeritus released a statement in memory of a beacon of civil rights and one of the greatest baseball legends. Selig said he and his wife, Sue, are "terribly saddened and heartbroken" by the news that broke on Friday morning.
“Besides being one of the greatest baseball players of all time, Hank was a wonderful and dear person and a wonderful and dear friend," Selig wrote in a statement. "Not long ago, he and I were walking the streets of Washington, D.C. together and talking about how we’ve been the best of friends for more than 60 years.
"Then Hank said: ‘Who would have ever thought all those years ago that a Black kid from Mobile, Alabama would break Babe Ruth’s home run record and a Jewish kid from Milwaukee would become the Commissioner of Baseball?’"
Selig had been by Aaron's side for a lot of the way, like when he received hate mail and death threats after passing Babe Ruth's home run record in 1974. Aaron finished his career with 755 homers.
He saw the hurt that transpired after then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn did not attend the record-breaking game in Atlanta, electing to talk to a Cleveland Indians fan club that day.
The two met in 1957, and Selig told the East Bay Times in 2007 that Aaron "is the same, dignified, quiet, thoughtful person" as the day they first met.
Aaron played in the Negro leagues and minor leagues before making his MLB debut in April 1954 with the Braves, then in Milwaukee, at age 20.
When they met, Aaron was a 23-year-old playing for Milwaukee while Selig was taking accounting classes. He was often in the Braves clubhouse because his father's car dealership supplied the players with loaner cars. The Braves went on to win the World Series that year—and Aaron won his lone MVP award—and their friendship continued to blossom for more than half a century.
While it started as a baseball friendship, it soon went beyond that as the pair went to Green Bay Packers games and sat together during plane rides whenever Selig traveled with the Braves.
Eventually, the team left Milwaukee, and Selig wanted to bring a new club to town. He became the owner of the Brewers, and in 1975, he traded for his longtime friend, Aaron.
The eventual Hall of Famer led on the field, accumulating stats that continue to hold records in the sport, like being the only player in the 500 home run club who would still have 3,000 hits without his home runs. But he was also known for his graciousness.
“What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia," Vin Scully said on air the night Aaron broke the all-time home run record. "What a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron.”
Aaron continued to be a beacon for civil rights up until the end. Earlier this month, Aaron was in the news when he received the COVID-19 vaccine and encouraged other Black Americans to do the same.
“Aaron was beloved by his teammates and by his fans," Selig continued in his statement on Friday. "He was a true Hall of Famer in every way. He will be missed throughout the game, and his contributions to the game and his standing in the game will never be forgotten.”
More Hank Aaron Stories From the SI Vault and SI.com:
• At 23, Hank Aaron Is Already the League's Best Right-Handed Hitter - Roy Terrell, 1957
• Henry Raps One for History: Aaron Collects Hit No. 3,000 - William Leggett, 1970
• Henry Aaron Gracefully Endured the Pressure of the Chase for 715 - Ron Fimrite, 1974
• Despite Losing the Home Run Record, Hank Aaron Will Always Be "The People's King" - Tom Verducci, 2007
• Where Are They Now: The People Behind Hank Aaron's Record 715th Home Run - Stephanie Apstein, 2014
• Hank Aaron Transcended Baseball Like Few Ever Have—or Will - Tom Verducci, 2021