Tue. May 21st, 2024

CONNECTICUT — The news of Hank Aaron’s passing reverberated not only through the sports world, but the world at large Friday and left me reflecting on two simple sentences that have been an inspiration for three decades, both to a career journalist and a person in society.

Just the first sentence was arguably enough on its own:

“I was never bitter.”

It was back in 1991, and I was a sports and news writer for the Milford Citizen in Connecticut. The phone rang one morning and on the other end was Aaron’s former personal assistant, who had moved to town after her retirement.

She asked if I would promote a rare signing appearance by Aaron, who had just finished an autobiography titled, “I Had A Hammer.” I, of course, agreed, never thinking I would be talking to him just 15 minutes later. Aaron, as a favor to her, was planning to use proceeds from the signing to benefit a cause she supported.

Then, the phone rang again.

“Hi may I speak to Chris?”

“This is him.”
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“Hi this is Hank Aaron calling …”

It was definitely him. It was that that distinctive, deliberate delivery Aaron had that made baseball fans and citizens in general hedge on his every word.

We immediately began discussing the book and his inspiration for writing what was a series of reflections from the soul about growing up as a man of color in the Deep South all the way to becoming the all-time home run king and an ambassador for the game and nation he loved.

We discussed eating arrangements as a minor leaguer that left him less than welcome. We discussed heckling and threats as he approached and then broke Babe Ruth’s record.

And we discussed the 1960s and 1970s in general and the climate in the United States.

All the while, he sounded like an ambassador for what is right.

Then, we discussed attitude and outlook, and I began to tell Aaron he did not sound as “bitter” about his past as he could have been.

Before I could finish, Aaron enthusiastically cut me off.

“I was never bitter,” he said. “If I were ever bitter, I never would have been able to accomplish what I accomplished.”

Boom. Hank Aaron said it in the simplistic but powerful way he made everything sound.

Aaron’s words — and perspective — have stayed with me ever since.
Hank Aaron
Hank Aaron’s baseball card after setting the all-time home run record. Aaron died Friday at the age of 86. (Jensen Family Collection)

I am not the only journalist he made an impression on. Patch colleague Tim Jensen reflected on an encounter with Aaron as a mere teenager at Cooperstown.

“I vividly remember seeing him break the record. I was only 9 years old, but the TV networks would interrupt regular programming to show his at-bats live. I can still see Bill Buckner frantically climbing the fence trying to grab the ball. I was in Cooperstown with my dad at his Hall of Fame induction in 1982, and had the pleasure of shaking hands with him. A class act on and off the field.”

Aaron’s 86 years on this Earth were significant. A lot of young people have asked me for a perspective about the turbulent times we have endured in recent months. I respond that my perspective is not important, but that of a retired baseball player carried as much weight as any I have heard.

I then quote Aaron.

“I was never bitter … If I were ever bitter, I never would have been able to accomplish what I accomplished.”






















By james vines

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