Hall of Famer and Braves Legend Hank Aaron Dies at 86

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Baseball lost one of its greatest legends with the death of Hall of Famer and Braves legend Hank Aaron at age 86.

Additional details on his death are not known at this time.

"We are absolutely devastated by the passing of our beloved Hank. He was a beacon for our organization first as a player, then with player development, and always with our community efforts. His incredible talent and resolve helped him achieve the highest accomplishments yet he never lost his humble nature," Braves chairman Terry McGuirk said in a statement.

"Hank Aaron is near the top of everyone's list of all-time great players. His monumental achievements as a player were surpassed only by his dignity and integrity as a person," MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said. 

"Hank symbolized the very best of our game, and his all-around excellence provided Americans and fans across the world with an example to which to aspire. His career demonstrates that a person who goes to work with humility every day can hammer his way into history–and find a way to shine like no other."

Born on Feb. 5, 1934, in Mobile, Ala., Henry Louis "Hank" Aaron was one of eight children in his family. He grew up loving baseball but his family was poor and could not afford baseball equipment, so he developed his skills by hitting bottle caps with sticks. Aaron started his professional career in the Negro leagues and minor leagues before making his MLB debut in April 1954 with the Milwaukee Braves at just 20 years old. 

In his first season, Aaron hit .280 with 13 home runs and 69 RBI while finishing fourth in Rookie of the Year voting. His dynamic rookie campaign blazed the way for an indelible 23-year career that turned him into a baseball star and civil rights leader.

Three years later, Aaron won the National League MVP Award while leading MLB in home runs (44) and RBIs (132) with a .322 batting average. That summer started his long run of hitting at least 24 home runs each season through 1973. By then, he had tallied 713 home runs and was approaching Babe Ruth's all-time record (714).

Despite the excitement over a possible new home run king, Aaron had been plagued by intense media scrutiny in his chase for the record, but as a Black star in a league that had integrated less than 30 years prior, he also received hate mail and death threats.

On April 8, 1974, Hammerin' Hank became the new all-time home run leader when he sent Dodgers starter Al Downing's high fastball sailing into Atlanta's bullpen for his 715th homer. He surpassed Ruth's record and delivered one of the most significant moments in baseball history

The 53,775 fans at Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium erupted as Aaron rounded the bases and met his teammates and parents at home plate. 

"I just thank God it's all over," a relieved Aaron told the crowd.

He played two more seasons and slugged 40 additional home runs before retiring as a member of the Brewers in 1976, ending his career with 755 moonshots. On Aug. 8, 2007, Barry Bonds—who had been linked to PED use—controversially passed Aaron's mark with 762 home runs, but some baseball purists continue to argue the Hammer remains the true home run king.

Aaron's distinguished career includes 25 All-Star Game appearances, with 21 straight from 1955 to '75, setting a record ahead of Willie Mays and Stan Musial (24). The two-time batting champion still ranks first on baseball's all-time list in RBI (2,297). Aaron batted .393 when the Braves beat the Yankees in the 1957 World Series and he retired with a .305 career average.

He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982 and continued to be an ambassador for baseball and the Braves organization. 

Earlier this month, Aaron joined a group of civil rights leaders in getting the COVID-19 vaccine at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. He said he felt proud to be vaccinated and hoped his decision would send a message to some concerned Black Americans that the shots are safe.

More Hank Aaron Stories From the SI Vault and SI.com:

SI's Best Photos of Hank Aaron 

• At 23, Hank Aaron Is Already the League's Best Right-Handed Hitter - Roy Terrell, 1957

Henry Aaron May Be Getting Older, but He's Still Terrorizing Every Pitcher He Faces - Jack Mann, 1966

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