An eye-opening biography of the Braves’ outfielder, the real home-run king.
Though he retired as the all-time leader in RBIs and total bases, Henry Aaron was “never supposed to be the guy” who ran down the game’s most cherished record: Babe Ruth’s career 714 home runs. Known for his durability and his amazingly strong wrists, which allowed him to wait until the last millisecond on a pitch, the never-flashy Aaron remains, if there can be such a thing, an underrated superstar. ESPN senior writer Bryant (Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power, and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball, 2005, etc.) attributes this oversight to Aaron’s background and demeanor, to a press insistent on its own agenda and blithely unaware of its prejudice and to the frightful mental and spiritual toll exacted from this black man from the South as he overtook the Babe. The author pays close attention to Aaron’s baseball career, from the early days through to his curtain call as a designated hitter for the Brewers. If we never come to know the introverted Aaron, Bryant allows us, at least, to understand him, keenly evoking the social environments that shaped the man. Although sportswriters frequently compared him to Willie Mays—with whom he seems to have had a somewhat peevish relationship—the non-confrontational, quiet, poorly educated Aaron ached to emulate Jackie Robinson and wanted desperately to be recognized for more than merely “hate mail and home runs.” Applying the single-mindedness that made him such a great player, Aaron reached the Braves’ front office—the first black ex-major-leaguer making decisions for the home club—and enjoyed business success selling cars. Baseball’s tainted steroid era has, if anything, bestowed an even brighter shine to Aaron’s on-field achievements, but Bryant makes clear that this slugger’s story was always about more than merely overcoming blazing fastballs.
Plenty of baseball for the fan, but even more insight into why Aaron matters beyond the game.