Oct 15, 2012

Hank Aaron's Boyhood Home

On a recent trip to Mobile, Alabama John and I visited the Hank Aaron Childhood Home. It was built by his father, Herbert, in 1942 and is located next to the Hank Aaron Stadium. We were lucky Mike Callahan, the stadium’s assistant general manager, was available to give us a tour because he is an encyclopedia of Hank Aaron stories. 

I would have loved to have met Hank’s mother, Estella, who died in 2008 at the age of 96.  I can picture her in the lovely light mauve dress with matching hat and shoes that are on display but what I like best are the stories about her.  When a scout first approached the Aarons requesting that Hank play in a local league his mom refused.  He was still in school.  She finally relented but laid down the law: no night games when there was school the next day and no skipping school to play. Later when he went to play in the Negro Leagues for the Indianapolis Clowns his mom insisted his older brother and sister go along to take care of him.  When Hank Aaron had enough money he bought his mom a new home on the water as a surprise.  The conversation went something like this. “Hank, what is this?” “Mom, it’s your new house.” “I’m not moving.  I like my house and it is where all my friends are.”  And, of course, she didn’t move and lived in the house until she died.  Hank did have a large family room added to the house.  I have a lot of respect for a mom like that. After she died Hank donated the house and it was moved to a place of honor next to the stadium. 

Aaron was held in high regard by all those who played ball with him.  At the museum opening there was a long list of VIP guests including Willie Mays, Bob Feller, Rickey Henderson, Bruce Sutter, Reggie Jackson and Ozzie Smith. Aaron is quoted as saying, “I have had great things happen to me, but today is the greatest day I have ever had in my entire life."  The seven-room museum showcases the inspiring life and historic baseball career of Hank Aaron.

I am sure Mrs. Aaron was proud of all her eight children and especially her famous ball-playing sons, Hank and Tommy.  But, it was Hank who garnered most of baseball’s distinguished honors.

Aaron is best remembered for breaking Babe Ruth’s record of 714 homeruns with his 715th on April 8, 1974.  Not all the stories are so wonderful.  When it was obvious that Babe Ruth’s record was about to be broken Aaron received many death threats and hate mail because some people did not want to see a black man break Ruth’s record.  Mike Callahan shared this, “Most of the threats came from the North.” Interesting.

Aaron played 23 years as an outfielder for the Atlanta Braves. His record of 755 career home runs was the most of any other baseball player and a record that stood for more than two decades until it was broken by Barry Bonds.  After Bonds hit his record-breaking 756th home run on August 7, 2007, Aaron made a surprise appearance on the huge video screen at the ball park in San Francisco to congratulate Bonds on his accomplishment.  The museum has a plethora of memorabilia but I love the personal stories.