This is the final installment of the terrific series by Chris Mays, highlighting several times that Hank Aaron faced racism. These were originally posted on his blog, The 8 Things, and are reprinted here with permission.
By the time Hank Aaron had established himself as major league baseball's all time home run king, things were getting better for all African-American major leaguers. Minority players no longer had to be superstars to hang on in the big leagues. African-American players were now among the highest paid players in the game, even though the majors were a long way from pay parity. It was now widely accepted that minority men can play baseball and they would continue to receive that opportunity. Hank Aaron was simply one of many ball players who paved the way for so many others.
As for the other aspects of the game, racism was still the name of the game. With the notable exception of the Braves' Bill Lucas, minorities were virtually absent from the front office of every major league team. There were no African-American managers. With the home run record now behind him, Hank Aaron focused his energy on advocating for the first African-American manager in the big leagues.
One individual that Aaron was promoting as a potential manager was his brother Tommie, who was managing in the Braves minor league system for the Savannah club. When Eddie Matthews was fired from the managerial spot at the All-Star break of the 1974 season, Hank Aaron mentioned to several reporters that his brother should be a candidate. When asked, Braves GM Eddie Robinson would say Tommie is not a candidate because he needs to concentrate on a pennant race for Savannah. If this were true, of course, it would be the first time a big league club decided that the welfare of a minor league team was more important than that of the big league team. Of course, it wasn't true. There are legitimate reasons that Robinson could have given for not considering Tommie Aaron for the job, such as his only having two years of experience as a minor league manager. Instead, Robinson chose to just make something up.
Did Hank Aaron want to be the Braves manager? That's a hard question to answer actually. Aaron never expressed a burning desire to be a field manager. Still, he thought it was vitally important than an African-American manager be given the chance somewhere in baseball. For at least a decade, Hank Aaron had been promoting the idea. Jackie Robinson would talk about it until his death. Still, no big league team was willing to take the chance. As for the Braves job, Aaron didn't want to campaign for the job since Eddie Mathews was his friend and had just been fired from the spot. He initially told the writers that he wasn't sure he was interested.
During the 1974 All-Star game, Aaron was interviewed by NBC's Tony Kubek. During the interview, Aaron told Kubek that he felt that the Braves, at the very least, owed him the courtesy of offering him the job. Aaron also said that if offered, he would accept since it was such an important signal to send to the rest of the league. When the writers asked the GM if Aaron was a candidate, he answered with a simple no. The greatest player in the history of the franchise, the team's current reigning superstar, would not even be considered for the post.
Again, there are reasons that Hank Aaron shouldn't have been offered the job, but it's hard to believe that he wouldn't have, at the very least, merited consideration. The younger players on the team looked up to Aaron as both a mentor and a friend. He never shied from offering advice to those who sought it out. He was, as we saw earlier in this series, a thinking ballplayer with a particular skill for evaluating the pitching of the opposition. Was he not offered the job because he was black?
Eddie Robinson was asked if the city of Atlanta was ready for a black manager. He had no comment. That alone spoke volumes. Aaron's disappointment at not being considered for the job would lead to a conflict with sportswriters and the team. This would spill over to the fans as he would receive yet another round of hate mail.
His relationship with the Braves would deteriorate further over discussions of Aaron's future with the organization. Aaron has already decided that he didn't want to wear a Braves uniform again and would like to move into the front office, perhaps in a position similar to the position the Cardinals had given his good friend, Stan Musial. No deal could be worked out between Aaron and Braves President Don Donahue. Owner Bill Bartholomay expressed regret years later saying, "Hank probably felt I left him hanging, and I can't blame him for that." Bartholomay believed Aaron was a "class of one". As it was, the bitterness led to the Braves trading Aaron to the Brewers to finish up his career.
Eventually, new ownership under Ted Turner would bring Hank Aaron back into the organization, and into the front office. Aaron has spent a significant portion of his front office career fighting to get more minorities hired by the major league teams.
My primary source for the information in this series is Hank Aaron's 1991 autobiography, I Had a Hammer: The Hank Aaron Story, co-written with Lonnie Wheeler.
Thank again to Chris Mays for allowing me to republish these essays on this site. I hope most of you have enjoyed them as a break from the usual day-to-day grind of the season. Stuff like this is a rare find on the interwebs and I wanted to make sure as many people as possible got a chance to read it. For a listing of all of these essays click here.