Aaron’s legacy preserved through his gift to the Hall

Part of the BASEBALL HISTORY series
Written by: Craig Muder

Hank Aaron made history throughout an incredible seven-decade career in baseball.

And Aaron made sure that much of that history – which tells the story of a player, executive, pioneer and national hero – will be preserved for all time in Cooperstown.

Aaron, who passed away on Jan. 22, 2021, at the age of 86, pledged nearly his entire collection of artifacts, memorabilia and photos to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum several years ago. Many of those pieces are now on display in the Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream exhibit on the Museum’s third floor, which opened in 2009.

“It’s unprecedented, and it is truly an extraordinary act of generosity,” said Erik Strohl, the Museum’s vice president of exhibitions and collections. “The collection is not just from what he did on the field, with his mind-boggling consistency. But it’s pieces representing what he did off the field, his cultural impact, his civil rights work and his philanthropy.

“If you consider what he means to this country – not just sports – it’s an amazing legacy.”

Aaron, who played 23 big league seasons with the Braves and the Brewers, became a nationwide sensation in 1974 when he eclipsed Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record with his 715th career round-tripper. He had long been one of the game’s best players, having won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1957 while leading the Milwaukee Braves to the World Series title.

He was named to 25 All-Star Games, won two NL batting titles and scored 100-or-more runs in 15 of 16 seasons from 1955-70.

The Museum collection features historic artifacts like his bats from his 500th and 600th home runs as well as his 3,000th hit, the uniform from his 715th home run, his 1957 National League MVP Award (the only one of this career) and his 1957 World Series ring.

“In 2007, the Museum committed to curating Chasing the Dream, which is one of only two exhibits in the entire Museum (along with an exhibit honoring Babe Ruth) devoted to a single person,” Strohl said. “If you consider what he means to this country, not just baseball fans, it’s a fitting tribute. We have pieces from his business career, his Presidential Medal of Freedom and so much more.

“He transcended the game and sports.”

Aaron’s widow, Billye, was also instrumental in ensuring his story would find a permanent home in Cooperstown.

“Those two acted as one,” Strohl said. “It was amazing to see their relationship: Her understanding of what he meant to America and his understanding that he couldn’t have done it without her.”

What Hank Aaron did – on the field, in private life and in his remarkable gift to the Hall of Fame – will be forever remembered.

“It’s the proudest moment of my life,” Aaron said when he pledged his collection, “to give my things to the Hall of Fame.”

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the BASEBALL HISTORY series