Hank Aaron, baseball legend and former home run king, dies at 86

Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron, the Baseball Hall of Famer who broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record and lived a life as an ambassador to the game, has died. He was 86.

“It is with great sadness we share the passing of our home run king, Hank Aaron, who passed away peacefully in his sleep,” his former team, the Atlanta Braves, said in a statement.

The cause of death was not disclosed.

“We are absolutely devastated by the passing of our beloved Hank,” Braves Chairman Terry McGuirk said in a statement. “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.

“Henry Louis Aaron wasn’t just our icon, but one across Major League Baseball and around the world. His success on the diamond was matched only by his business accomplishments off the field and capped by his extraordinary philanthropic efforts.”

Aaron, known as “Hammer” or “Hammerin’ Hank,” was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982 following an illustrious MLB career highlighted by 755 career home runs. Aaron famously broke Ruth’s longstanding home run record on April 8, 1974 — hitting his 715th homer at home in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

Aaron’s incredible achievement came in the shadow of hate and death threats from people who did not want a Black man to claim such an important record.

As he was chasing Ruth’s record, Aaron was taunted daily at ballparks, received threats on his life and was sent thousands of racist hate mail. He said he didn’t read most of the mail but kept some as a reminder.

“There were times during the chase when I was so angry and tired and sick of it all that I wished I could get on a plane and not get off until I was someplace where they never heard of Babe Ruth,” he wrote in his “I Had a Hammer” autobiography.

“But damn it all, I had to break that record. I had to do it for Jackie (Robinson) and my people and myself and for everybody who ever called me a [N-word].”

Reaction to Aaron’s death and remembrances streamed across social media Friday from the world of sports and politics.

“A baseball legend who transcended the sport,” the Chicago Cubs tweeted.

“This is a considerable loss for the entire city of Atlanta,” the city’s mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, said in a statement. “Mr. Aaron was part of the fabric that helped place Atlanta on the world stage.”

“Rest in Peace to American hero, icon, and Hall of Famer Hank Aaron,” basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson tweeted.

“We will miss you,” Bernice King, the youngest child of civil rights icon the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote. “Your leadership. Your grace. Your generosity. Your love. Thank you, #HankAaron.”

Aaron is survived by his wife, Billye, and five children, Gaile, Hank Jr, Lary, Dorinda and Ceci, according to the Braves organization.