Henry (Hank) Aaron died last week.
We baseball fans keep losing our heroes. Yes, athletes from all sports age, and eventually die. For me, the baseball heroes are personal, because I was Hank Aaron, and I was Roberto Clemente, and I was Stan Musial. When my brother and I played Wiffle Ball, we played with lineups comprised of those ballplayers. My brother Ed was always the Cincinnati Reds because… well just because. He is the older brother, so he got to be the Reds, our beloved hometown team.
I was the National League opposition- the Cubs, Braves, Pirates, Cardinals, Giants, Dodgers, and Phillies. Therefore, I was the one who got to be Mays, and Aaron, Musial and Clemente, Banks and Snider and those other great stars. I also got to be lesser- known players like Daryl Spencer, Junior Gilliam, and Del Crandall. I was a LOT of ballplayers!
In those innocent days, I had no idea of the struggles that some of those players faced in real life. The things that Aaron, Mays, Banks and dozens of other African-American players endured was well beyond my thinking. It was, unfortunately, very real to them.
So, as these icons pass away, I think about what they did, both on and off the field. I wish that I could have had an appreciation for their struggles, but that information was kept well out of the reach of fans in those days. They were denied stays at team hotels in some southern cities, they received terrible abuse from fans, and they certainly did not get the endorsements that white players were able to get. Of course, until 1947, African-American players were not even allowed to play Major League Baseball.
So, this is my little tribute to players lost, most recently quiet Henry Aaron, the guy who spoke more with his bat than any other way. I miss being you guys. Thanks for giving me the chance to play that role so many years ago.