Braves mourn Hank: 'Absolutely devastated'

January 22nd, 2021

ATLANTA -- As Brian Jordan discussed Hank Aaron’s passing on Friday, he expressed the sentiments of the countless individuals who recognized the greatness of the iconic baseball player throughout his celebrated life.

“I lost a hero,” Jordan said. “As a Black boy growing up and loving the game of baseball, Hank Aaron was that guy. He was a huge reason I selected the Atlanta Braves when I was a free agent. Yeah, it’s a great organization. But it was an opportunity for me to meet my hero.”

One of the sports world’s greatest heroes was lost when Aaron passed away while sleeping Friday in Atlanta. It’s been nearly 50 years since he last played a game for the Braves. But he has continued to have an impact on the organization, which will be forever thankful for his immeasurable contributions.

“He basically is the Braves,” club president and CEO Derek Schiller said. “We are who we are because of Hank Aaron. I know there are a lot of guys who have worn the uniform, but none like Hank.”

Schiller and team chairman Terry McGuirk spoke to Aaron last week and were looking forward to meeting with him again soon.

“We are absolutely devastated by the passing of our beloved Hank,” McGuirk said in a statement. “He was a beacon for our organization first as a player, then with player development, and always with our community efforts. His incredible talent and resolve helped him achieve the highest accomplishments, yet he never lost his humble nature. Henry Louis Aaron wasn’t just our icon, but one across Major League Baseball and around the world. His success on the diamond was matched only by his business accomplishments off the field and capped by his extraordinary philanthropic efforts.”

Though a fractured hip slowed him over the past few years, Aaron would still make frequent trips to the ballpark to work out or just talk with club officials. He was at Truist Park last month, when Freddie Freeman won the Hank Aaron Award.

“Even when he wasn’t here physically, he was with us all the time,” Schiller said. “When we went to the postseason this year, he was calling all the time asking about how things were going and how we were looking. He told me he watched every game on TV. He knew everything going on about the team.”

Aaron played for the Braves from 1954-74, then spent the final two years of his legendary career with the Milwaukee Brewers. After retiring, he spent 13 years as Atlanta’s vice president of player development. It was in this role that he decided Brian Snitker was better suited to serve as coach than as a backup Minor League catcher.

“I wouldn’t be sitting here on this call if it wasn’t for Hank Aaron,” Snitker said. “He’s the reason I’m here. I’ve said many times, I’ve been blessed to be around Hall of Famers throughout my career, none more important to my career, my family and my life than Hank Aaron.”

Along with getting his first coaching job with the Braves in 1980, Snitker also gained what became an incredible friendship. He remained in close contact with Aaron over the past four decades and was hoping the legendary slugger would come to Spring Training to hang out with the players over the next few years.

“I hate that for [the players],” Snitker said. “They’re not going to get to experience Hank Aaron, the epitome of grace and professionalism.”

Aaron did briefly visit the team’s Spring Training facility, which officially opened in North Port, Fla., last year. His presence for the unveiling of Hank Aaron Way was celebrated by the Braves players who appreciated being in the presence of one of the game’s greatest legends.

“He was so gracious and cordial,” said former Braves star and Hall of Famer Chipper Jones. “He gave everybody their time that day. He didn’t come around very often. But when he did, he was all-in. You could tell he was really genuine, that he really wanted to help the players and give of his time. There aren’t too many like that anymore.

“All the interactions I had with him through the years, I’ve treasured every single one of them. This guy, when he walked in a room, had this aura about him. He was at constant peace. He probably had every right to be militant, angry and leery of everyone he came in contact with, but he never was.”

Aaron was the target of taunts, hate mail and death threats as he grew closer to breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record. But he continued to play and remain composed through that moment on April 8, 1974, when he hit his record-breaking 715th homer at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

“Jackie Robinson kind of set the stage, but Hank took it to another level,” Jones said. “You’re talking about a Black man in that day and age, elevating himself to the best in the game and embarking on a journey that would take him to the top of the home run list and passing Babe Ruth, it really is amazing. He was a beautiful human.”