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Braves pay proper respect to Aaron

Tributes to legendary slugger abound at SunTrust Park
MLB.com

It began four decades ago, after Hank Aaron ended his 23 years of greatness as a player in the Major Leagues and was given a massive office at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium by the ballclub he helped to make famous.

Well, I'm talking about the second office, not the first one.

It began four decades ago, after Hank Aaron ended his 23 years of greatness as a player in the Major Leagues and was given a massive office at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium by the ballclub he helped to make famous.

Well, I'm talking about the second office, not the first one.

Let's just say longtime Braves official Terry McGuirk wasn't pleased when he discovered that one of his employees had given the newest team executive a working space not suitable for somebody with 755 home runs and the rising credentials of Jackie Robinson when it came to social injustices. Aaron also had the distinction of being McGuirk's frequent racquetball partner.

"Terry pitched a fit when he found out where they put me," Aaron said, delivering one of his contagious laughs, whenever he recalls how he left the field to become a decision-maker for the Braves along the way to receiving an office (you know, the second one, not the first one) larger than that of anybody in the franchise not named Ted Turner, the team's owner back then.

So it isn't surprising the Braves have progressed from that moment after the 1976 season to doing all sorts of Hank Aaron things through the years. That list includes their annual Hank Aaron Heritage Weekend, which began Friday afternoon with the Hank Aaron Champion for Justice Award Ceremony at the Center for Civil and Human Rights in downtown Atlanta. The award goes each year to individuals "who have made a lifelong commitment to overcoming industry obstacles and inspiring future generations."

Video: Negro League players discuss Hank Aaron's legacy

The latest award recipients were Alexis Herman, the first African-American Secretary of Labor; Clarence "Cito" Gaston, a former Major League player and the first African-American manager to win a World Series championship; syndicated columnist and national TV commentator Roland Martin, and civil rights activist Hank Thomas, who was one of the original Freedom Riders.

The host of Friday's event? It was Billye Aaron, Hank's wife, who is as eternally graceful as her 83-year-old husband.

Hank Aaron Heritage Weekend will continue Saturday afternoon at that same location, where current Braves outfielder Matt Kemp will join former Braves player and team TV announcer Brian Jordan for a conversation open to the public involving Negro League players Ernest Fann and Jack Sanders. Later that evening at SunTrust Park, the Braves will honor Fann, Sanders and other Negro League players during a ceremony before the team faces the Reds. Those Negro League players also will sign autographs in the plaza.

Video: 4/8/74: Aaron Hits HR No. 715 to pass Babe Ruth

If that isn't enough, the first 20,000 fans attending Friday night's game against the Reds will receive a replica of the Hank Aaron statue that sits as the centerpiece inside of SunTrust Park. There, around a massive area of a concourse just beyond home plate, hundreds of fans flock before, during and after games to see the following in bronze: A depiction of Aaron swinging and making contact with a baseball on Monday, April 8, 1974, for No. 715 to break Babe Ruth's all-time record for career home runs. In addition, the area features 755 actual bats, with each giving the date of one of Aaron's blasts. There also is a continuous video with a narrator that shows highlights of Aaron's career.

I haven't even mentioned that one of the primary streets to SunTrust Park is named in Aaron's honor. Or that Hank Aaron Terrace is a section located high above the bleachers in left. Or that each of the seats in the stadium has a tiny silhouette featuring Hank's famous swing.

As McGuirk said before SunTrust Park opened this year after the Braves left Turner Field following 20 seasons, it was "a priority" to incorporate Aaron's legacy throughout the new place.

No problem there, and get this: Even though the Braves departed Turner Field, the facility remains, and it's now the football home for Georgia State University. It's still located at 755 (get it?) Hank Aaron Drive, and another glorious statue of Aaron remains outside.

There's more Hank stuff for a Baseball Hall of Famer, whose philanthropic endeavors have been as impressive as his career stats. Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was across the street from Turner Field, and the only thing remaining of the Braves' original Atlanta home is dedicated to the landing spot of Aaron's 715th homer.

Going back to the subject of statues, Aaron also has one at Miller Park in Milwaukee to commemorate the start of his career with the Braves at old Milwaukee County Stadium. He has another statue outside of a ballpark in Eau Claire, Wis., where he played his first professional game, and then there is an Aaron bust at Hank Aaron Stadium -- the Minor League ballpark in Mobile, Ala., his hometown.

Video: Manfred presents Bryant, Ortiz with Hank Aaron Award

Major League Baseball officials keep honoring Aaron, too. Every year since 1999, they've given the top hitter in each league the Hank Aaron Award. That, along with everything else I've just mentioned, is in addition to this Baseball Hall of Famer receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom award in 2002, the People's Choice Award for Favorite Sports Figure in '75, the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award in '70 and so many other accolades that I'll run out of cyberspace.

For some perspective, here's the man himself.

"You know, the one thing I've always said that I've been blessed by, and that is getting recognized by my own peers," Aaron said, as always with a heavy dose of humility. "Now that didn't hold true with others during my playing days. There were many times, even now, when I look back on my record and say to myself, 'Henry, you had this great career for 23 years, and yet, you only won the Most Valuable Player Award once [in 1957, when he helped the Braves win the World Series championship].

"I came very close to winning it two or three other times, but somebody else would win it. Those are the times I look back and say, 'If I had been a white player, or if I had played in New York City, I probably would have won it two or three more times.'

"The other one thing that I think I probably could have done better with, and that is, winning the Triple Crown. I think I could have done it, but, well, you never know. I know I can't do it now."

Aaron laughed that laugh, then he added, "But there aren't too many other things I think about as far as honors or awards. I played the game for 23 years, and I gave it everything that I had."

Which is exactly why Henry Louis Aaron can't be honored enough.

Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com.

Atlanta Braves