Smithsonian Channel and Major League Baseball have teamed up for the “MAJOR LEAGUE LEGENDS” series to tell the stories of four ballers who transcended the National Pastime and left legacies as true American icons: Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig.
Each of the specials is narrated by Emmy® and Golden Globe® winner Martin Sheen. The stories take an in-depth look at the history, psychology and mythology of each of the Baseball Hall of Famers.
Providing context throughout each of the programs are a crew of journalists, academics and notable sports figures.
The first film in the series, MAJOR LEAGUE LEGENDS: HANK AARON, (also titled “The Hammer of Hank Aaron”) premieres tonight on The Smithsonian Channel at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT.
The “Hammer of Hank Aaron” film includes Deadspin founder Will Leitch, ESPN’s Howard Bryant, National Museum of African American History and Culture curator Damion Thomas and author/mythologist Phil Cousineau.
Hank Aaron is an American legend as well as arguably the greatest hitter in MLB history. He retired as the all-time MLB leader in home runs in 1976 after breaking Babe Ruth’s mythical record of 714 homers.
Aaron finished his career with 755 blasts and held that distinction until Barry Bonds’s juice-aided demolition of the record in 2007. It seemed justly symbolic that Aaron hit number 715 on April 8, 1974, in Atlanta, the epicenter of the Civil Rights movement.
This special Black History Month presentation features extensive, newly-captured interviews with Aaron himself, as he discusses his upbringing in Mobile, Alabama and the challenges that he faced growing up in the heart of Jim Crow. He also touches on the death threats, racial epithets and hatred he endured from racists as he approached Ruth’s record and throughout his career.
All of the legends featured have left indelible marks on the game of baseball and are G.O.A.T. candidates, but none of the other players had to overcome and endure the same obstacles that Hank Aaron did.
His experience and historic triumph is unique, inspirational and unto itself.
Hank, the third child of Estella and Herbert Aaron was an All-Star For 21 straight years. For 20 consecutive years, he slugged at least 20 home runs or more. Fourteen times he hit over .300 in a major league season and eight times he hit 40 home runs or more. Over that period he also collected more RBI's and more extra base hits than anyone in history.
Throughout his career Aaron was a vocal advocate for racial equality in baseball, not just on the field but in the front office.
"On the field, Blacks have been able to be supergiants. But, once our playing days are over, this is the end of it and we go back to the back of the bus again," Aaron once said in reference to a lack of black managers and black front office personnel.
That lack of diversity in leadership positions continues to this day.
In 1982, he was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. His 97.8 percent "yes" votes on all ballots cast was the second most at the time, behind only Ty Cobb in 1936.
Ken Griffey Jr. has since grabbed the record with his 99.3 percentage of the vote in this year’s Hall of Fame enshrinement.
After his playing days, Aaron returned to the Braves in an executive capacity, further showing the ability of African-Americans to serve in a decision-making role as well. Aaron served as Vice President of Player Development. In 1989, the Atlanta Braves named him Senior Vice President of the club and assistant to the club President.
On February 5, 1999, Major League Baseball announced the creation of the Hank Aaron Award on the 25th anniversary of Aaron breaking Ruth's record. The award is presented annually to the best hitter in the American and National leagues.
In 1999, Hank was named to Major League Baseball's "All-Century Team."
The culmination of his colossal contributions to American athletics and society was in 2002, when he was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.