We haven’t been co-hosting a sports show long enough to take anything for granted or consider as routine the new access we’ve had to visit with some iconic sports personalities of the highest order. We don’t feel jaded, we feel unbelievably blessed.
That’s why before and after interviewing one of the greatest baseball players in history, the Gen X’er and the Baby Boomer looked at each other, smiled and said something like, “Dude did we just interview Hank Aaron?” Unbelievable.
After learning how to hit by practicing hitting bottle caps with a stick, Hank Aaron started playing baseball for money when he was fifteen years old, playing for a semi-pro team in Alabama for $2 a game. Three years later, the Milwaukee Braves bought Aaron’s contract from the Negro League’s Indianapolis Clowns for a whopping $10,000 and that began a major league baseball career and a life that would influence, encourage and inspire generations to come.
So on one June day, three generations of African-American men were sharing about sports and life. The Boomer and the Gen X’er were students learning at the feet of the elder, representing that generation most appropriately labeled “The Greatest Generation.”
The Greatest taught a lesson of priorities, recalling how his mother refused to let baseball interfere with his education, only allowing him to play on the weekends when school was in session. She wanted him to get an education, get a good job and make something decent of himself, like becoming a schoolteacher.
He also taught a lesson of living within one’s means, remembering after signing with the Indianapolis Clowns how his friend nicknamed him “Pork Chops” because that’s what he ate, three times a day. His regular diet of chops was based on two very practical reasons. One, he liked pork chops. Two, he could afford them based on his $2 daily food per diem.
He taught a lesson on respect and deference, acknowledging that some of the very best players in the Negro leagues like Leroy “Satchel” Page and Josh Gipson with superior playing skills and ability, didn’t make it to the majors. He knows he stood on their shoulders and represented them by showing the world what black players could do when given the same opportunities as their white counterparts.
Lastly, he taught a lesson on brotherhood and camaraderie. He said that he and Hall of Famers such as Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays and Ernie Banks always got together when they were in each other’s cities. They informed each other. They encouraged each other. They lived and learned about life from each other.
The Baby Boomer recalled that another reason he liked Hank Aaron so much as a kid was because Hank and his father favored each other and looked like they could’ve been brothers. He remembered how he really wanted a Hank Aaron model baseball glove back in the late 1950’s when he played in little league. But he had to settle for another Milwaukee Braves player’s glove, Warren Spahn. The reason was because they didn’t put black players’ names on autographed model gloves or equipment at that time.
The Gen’Xer, only seven years old when Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, remembers the man in the middle of the swirl of media coverage, with the kind, calm face. The child wondered why anyone would want to kill the kind man for hitting home runs. He always thought home runs made people happy. Like “Mr. Aaron,” he too was startled when two white men ran out on the field as he rounded the bases after hitting #715.
Mr. Aaron turned 80 this year. He says he is really enjoying life these days and that in life as in baseball, “You only get out of it what you put into it.”
Dude, did we just get a life lesson from Hank Aaron? Unbelievable!
(R&R On Sports is a nationally syndicated radio show available on hundreds of radio stations and digital platforms. Stream R&R live Saturdays 11AM EDT/10 AM CDT on sportsbyline.com or on ranronsports.com anytime. In Memphis, tune in Saturday mornings at 9 a.m. on AM 790 ESPN Radio.)