John Sterling was a newcomer to the Atlanta Braves’ broadcast booth during the 1982 season, when the announcer was on the receiving end of criticism -- not the first or last time. A brief chat with Hank Aaron helped him feel at home.
Sterling recalls walking through the halls of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, approaching the office of owner Ted Turner. He crossed paths with the retired home run king, then a senior vice president and advisor with the club.
“He was very, very good to me,” Sterling said on Friday, after Aaron passed away at the age of 86. “When you come to a town like Atlanta, especially from New York, you’re going to get knocked. I said to him, 'What should I tell Ted?’ Henry Aaron sat me down and said, ‘Look, you just do what you do on the air. Don’t listen to those people. Go on the air and be you.’ He gave me a nice little talk.”
Sterling described the Hall of Famer and all-time RBI leader (2,297) as a captivating player, one who tallied “ridiculous” numbers by hitting, throwing and fielding with aplomb. Aaron surpassed Babe Ruth’s career total of 714 homers in 1974 and retired with 755 homers -- a mark Barry Bonds eclipsed in 2007.
“Henry Aaron commanded so much respect because he was a very quiet superstar. You never heard anything wrong about him,” Sterling said. “It’s been well-documented that when he got close to Babe Ruth’s home run record, he received an avalanche of hate mail. He just went out to play every day. I have the world of respect for Henry Aaron, who’s as great a ballplayer as ever lived.”