Aaron lauded for grace amid racism during home run pursuit

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Major League Baseball's all-time career home run record holder Hank Aaron and his wife Billye take a lap in a golf cart around Turner Field in Atlanta, Thursday, April, 8, 1999, after a ceremony to mark the 25th anniversary of his breaking Babe Ruth's record of 714 home runs on April 8, 1974. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Reaction to Hank Aaron's death from former presidents to fellow Hall of Famers to everyone who knew him followed a theme: how the one-time home run king handled the racism he faced on the way to passing Babe Ruth's hallowed record nearly 50 years ago.

Joe Carter met his childhood idol when he won the first Hank Aaron Award in 1986 after leading the majors in RBIs. By then, the All-Star slugger knew all about Aaron's legacy.

“You tip your cap to those guys, because they paved the way for guys like me. It’s something I’ll never take for granted. They were pioneers. Jackie Robinson. Hank Aaron. Satchel Paige. Those were guys you heard about, you knew about, and you followed them. That ’s who the Black community followed,” Carter said Friday.

“They are heroes and legends and they played the game the way that it was supposed to be played. … We all loved watching Hank,” he said, adding: “Hammerin’ Hank, man. It’s definitely a sad day.”

Aaron died in his sleep at 86.

“A child of the Jim Crow South, Hank quit high school to join the Negro League, playing shortstop for $200 a month before earning a spot in Major League Baseball,” former President Barack Obama said.

“Humble and hardworking, Hank was often overlooked until he started chasing Babe Ruth’s home run record, at which point he began receiving death threats and racist letters — letters he would reread decades later to remind himself ‘not to be surprised or hurt.’ Those letters changed Hank, but they didn’t stop him," he said.

Aaron broke Ruth's record with his 715th home run for the Atlanta Braves in 1974 in former President Jimmy Carter's native Georgia.