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No More Shadows Or Silence For Aaron
That’s about to change. Sooner rather than later, this famously private soul who was the face of the franchise from Milwaukee in the early 1950s to Atlanta in the mid-1970s will leave his self-imposed stay among the shadows to flirt with the sunshine around 755 Hank Aaron Drive.
“They all want me to come back [on a regular basis], starting with [Braves president] Terry McGuirk, who has been a buddy of mine going way back, and the commissioner wants me to come back more than anybody,” said Aaron, now 73, referring to Bud Selig, his close friend since the Braves’ days in Wisconsin.
“I never actually left the team, but I didn’t want to get into anybody’s way out there. I played baseball for 23 years. I don’t need it. I don’t need the money, so I’m satisfied.”
That said, Aaron wants to help his two baseball pals, and he’ll do so for at least this season. From McGuirk’s standpoint, for instance, why wouldn’t he want a living legend around as much as possible, especially one that was born and raised with the Braves?
“You and I haven’t known many greater men during our lifetimes than Hank Aaron, and that’s really true when compared to some of the bums who pretend to be at that level,” said McGuirk, who likely will hold his current position when Time Warner sells the team to Liberty Media. “It’s pretty neat to know Hank personally and to have him in your presence. I want him around forever.”
So does Selig. With a more visible Aaron in public, baseball will have somebody of eternal dignity to counter the growing steroid revelations in the game and the gifted but unpopular Barry Bonds moving just months or weeks away from becoming the all-time home-run king.
In case you didn’t know, Aaron has owned the crown for 33 years. Even so, he couldn’t care less that No. 755 will lose much of its magic to No. 756. He does care about continuing as a strong voice for African-Americans in the game since Jackie Robinson relinquished that role after his death in October 1972.
Which brings us to the primary reason Aaron is returning. “I’m going to stay around long enough to raise people’s attention on some things, because there are a bunch of things that I want [baseball and the Braves] to do,” said Aaron, referring to the ridiculously low number of African-American players in the game.
Until the Braves promoted Cairo’s Willie Harris from the minors this week, they were one of two teams in the majors with no African-Americans on their 40-man roster.
Yes, Aaron knows the Braves opened the Atlanta Braves Baseball Academy at the Villages of Carver YMCA on Saturday. Yes, Aaron knows clinics were held at the academy featuring Braves players, coaches and alumni for 100 youths.
And, yes, Aaron knows that, according to Braves officials, the idea is to give more than 350 youths from the African-American community a chance to play at the academy throughout the year.
Aaron just has his own ideas for the Braves beyond the academy, and he’ll share them from his office — the one that he’ll actually use in the near future.
It’s the one that is as posh as the office Ted Turner gave Aaron at the CNN Center after his 13 successful seasons (Dale Murphy, Tom Glavine, David Justice, Ron Gant, Mark Lemke, among others) through 1989 as the Braves’ director of player development.
“That was a great, big office, and I mean, it was absolutely huge, with three double windows and everything,” said Aaron, chuckling.
When Aaron arrived at the office the next day, the door had his name on the front, but it also had that of Bill Bartholomay, the Braves’ chairman emeritus and head of their executive committee.
McGuirk was not amused. Not only did he rip Bartholomay’s name from the door, but he confronted the guy responsible for such blasphemy. Terry stomped his feet, and he told the person who did it, “This is Hank Aaron’s office.”
“If you want to do something, you come and ask me,” said Aaron, chuckling some more over his old handball partner. Soon they’ll be chuckling down the hall from each other.