With the passing of Hank Aaron at 86, Chipper Jones, Braves manager Brian Snitker, Brian Jordan and team president and chief executive officer Derek Schiller joined a conference call Friday to share their thoughts on the icon.
“We’re not only talking about a transcendent baseball player. We’re talking about a transcendent person in American history as well. Jackie Robinson kind of set the stage, but Hank took to to a whole ‘nother level. When you’re talking about a black man elevating himself in that day and age to be the best in the game and embarking on a journey that would take him to the top of the home run list, passing Babe Ruth and that all he endured. It really is amazing. He is a beautiful human.
“All the interactions that I’ve had with him through the years, I have treasured each and ever one of them. It was like, man, this guy when he walked into the room he had this aura about him. He was at constant peace while he probably had every right to be militant and angry and leery of everyone that he came in contact with. Never was. Always has a gentle smile. Always had this peace about him.
“I can remember the first time I shook his hand and his hand engulfed mine. He truly taught me that the game was played, not only in your head, but from the shoulders to the wrists. I was like ‘Man, know I know where that bat speed came from. Now I see where that strength came from.’
I consider myself lucky that Hank Aaron was a part of this particular organization, because he set the bar, not only for what you should strive for as a baseball player, but as a human being. He spread his grace on everything and everyone that he came in contact with. Just the epitome of class and integrity.
“It’s been a rough go for us in Braves Country, but none hits harder than this one. It’s a truly sad day for our organization.
“He played for the Galactic All-Stars. We’re just mere Earthlings. He was on a different level and when you can take all those home runs away and he’s still got 3,000 hits, won Gold Gloves, All-Star games. To this day, I have to look at the back of that baseball card and remind myself, because some of the numbers just get lost. You’re talking about a transcendent baseball player right here. For him to be at or near the top of the greatest baseball players ever, I’m truly thankful that he was an Atlanta Brave.”
“I wouldn’t be sitting here if it weren’t for Hank Aaron. It’s plain and simple. He’s the reason I’m here. I’ve said many times I’ve been blessed to be raised by and around Hall of Famers my entire career, none more important to my career, to my family, to my life than Hank Aaron.
“Just recently I ran into him at the ballpark, he was down there doing his exercises, he sat in my office and we talked. I pinched myself then thinking ‘Are you kidding me? I’m sitting here talking to Hank Aaron.’
“Just a man of grace and I wish our team, our players would look at the back of that baseball card, because it’s stupid.
“I used to play racquetball with him when I was a young minor-league manager in Sarasota and we’d go to the YMCA. I probably still have welts on the back of my legs, because if you got in front of him — and you talk about wrist and hands — that freaking racquetball would go right through you and he didn’t care. After a while I learned to stay the hell out of his way.
“Just a sad day. The friend, the man, the person. That’s the reason for this sadness.”
“This morning I got the news on a Zoom call and I almost dropped to my knees. I lost a hero. As a black boy growing up, loving the game of baseball, Hank Aaron was that guy. He was a huge reason why I selected the Atlanta Braves as a free agent. It’s a great organization, but it was a chance for me to meet my hero, to talk to my hero and touch my hero.
“To meet Hank for the first time in the dugout in spring training, I was scared to even talk to him. He came over and talked to me first and knew more about me on the football field than baseball. Just to break the ice and have that conversation, he was such a humble man.
“We became really good friends. He’s a guy I will support and supported always. He was my mentor. He was fun to talk to and as a broadcaster, to have that opportunity to interview him was amazing. The fact that regardless of the interview, we continued to talk about history and talk about life. He is that example that I strive to be, not only on the field when I played, but off the field. The hope, the opportunity he’s given so many kids today, young kids like myself. Watching him grow up and seeing how strong he was through all the ignorance of this country was amazing. How he just stayed humble through it all.”
“This one hits different. It hits really hard. He’s a guy who in most ways, in every way, he basically is the Braves. Our brand is and our team is who we are because of Hank Aaron. I know there are a lot of guys who have worn the uniform, but none like Hank, obviously.
“Not only the way he wore the uniform on the field and the accomplishments, but how he represented himself and what he did during that journey as a ballplayer off the field. He could have done very little off the field, but took on so much. Represented our community. Represented baseball. ... He traveled the world and was an ambassador for Major League Baseball, for baseball fans everywhere and certainly for the Braves.
“We’re really sad today. It’s a tough day. There’s a lot of memories and thoughts about Hank. We’ve got a lot of condolences for Billye and Hank’s entire family. ... He’s a just a remarkable human being and I don’t think there will be anything like him.”