You may have noticed that a number of friends posted some remembrances or noted with sadness that baseball great Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron died. Since social media is the water cooler of our times and we are separated by pandemic, a number of people may wonder Why Aaron? For this reason, his life was significant beyond the game of baseball and those who followed him held in the highest esteem.

You may have noticed that a number of friends posted some remembrances or noted with sadness that baseball great Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron died. Since social media is the water cooler of our times and we are separated by pandemic, a number of people may wonder Why Aaron? For this reason, his life was significant beyond the game of baseball and those who followed him held in the highest esteem.

He had a tremendous Impact on the baseball field, posting a body of career statistics that have no equal. It is trite to say any player’s Influence was felt on and off the field. In the case of Henry Aaron, we can say it and probably retire the statement. But, his greatest gift may be the Inspiration he gives many because he accomplished so much despite some rather large obstacles.

Aaron was not only someone who faced a number of significant challenges, through him we saw the best and worst of American society. Born in Mobile, Alabama in 1934 not only did he grow up in segregation, it is more than likely he grew up knowing some former slaves and hearing stories of that era. Poverty and racial inequality were significant impediments to any dream Aaron may have had growing up, forget rewriting the baseball record book.

While his journey to the majors started in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, in 1953 Aaron was promoted to Jacksonville of the South Carolina League. He and teammates Horace Garner and Felix Mantilla were among the first players of color in the entire league. Not only did they have to stay in separate accommodations than the team, as Aaron recalled in his biography I Had A Hammer, this trio were subjected to racial taunts from the stands and worse. It is important to point out that this is a full six years after Jackie Robinson broke the color line with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Larry Doby followed breaking the line in the American League with the Cleveland Indians.

In 1998, prior to the All-Star Game in Denver, I was at a private pre-game reception. Aaron was there and sat down at our table. After my team owner warmed him up talking about bird hunting, I got to ask him a few questions about his great book. We talked mostly about his time in the minor leagues and then the radical contrast to the welcome he received when he got called up to the big club in Milwaukee. Still MLB was a long way from being integrated.

This is one place I think the teaching of the history of the game is glossed over. From 1947 until 1959, the integration of baseball was done slowly. It wasn’t until the Pumpsie Green played his first game with the Boston Red Sox that every team has at least one player of color on their squad. African American coaches wouldn’t start to appear until the 1960s and the first manager, Frank Robinson, didn’t fill out a scorecard until 1976. Aaron’s career as a player spanned all of this time.

Twenty one times, every season except his first and his last, The Hammer was an All-Star. And that’s about all the recognition he received as an active player. Despite leading the National League in runs three times, hits and batting average twice, homers and RBI four times he won only one MVP award. Sure, with Willie Mays, Ernie Banks and even fellow son of Mobile Willie McCovey in the league the competition was stiff. But, Aaron did not receive his due.

By the time Aaron hit 700th home run on July 21, 1973 America woke up to the realization that there may be a new home run king. According to the Washington Post obituary written by the esteemed Dave Sheinin, from that time until he broke Babe Ruth’s record Aaron received more mail than anyone else in the United States who was not an elected official. Much of it was filled with hate.

He needed private security. Again, like his days in the minor leagues he did not stay with his teammates. Unlike that time, the hotels he stayed in were not substandard. He was taken out a separate entrance of the ballpark. Beyond the stress of the threats, the Commissioner of Baseball Bowie Kuhn added his own insult to injury. He made a petty issue of Aaron being in the line-up for the opening series in Cincinnati. Then, after Aaron tied the record there, Kuhn was not at the game in Atlanta when the record was broken. All in all, the final home runs to break Ruth’s mark were not an enjoyable experience.

Over the course of the turbulent 1960s and into the 70s Aaron persevered. While lamenting to Martin Luther King Jr. he wanted to do more, the civil rights icon was reported to have said “Just keep swinging the bat.” He did get more involved in politics and the fight for civil rights. A Democrat, Aaron received the Presidential Citizens Medal from President Bill Clinton and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush. In these divided times, it is significant that he was recognized regardless by chief executives from both sides of the aisle.

Forget that he hit 755 home runs, is the all-time leader in RBI, is one of only seven players to score more than 2000 runs and has 3771 hits. Aaron didn’t have it made from the start. Despite obstacles he persevered and battled. And he did not rest on his baseball laurels, he was active in making Atlanta and the United States better places to live. While not loud in voice, his example was and is why Hank Aaron matters.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Mike Groll

 

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Graduate of Redwood High School, Larkspur, CA in June, 1978, Jim Bloom grew up in Tiburon, CA. After high school, Bloom attended George Washington University in Washington, DC for two years then transferred to San Diego State University. He graduated SDSU in 1982 with a degree in Speech Communication and Political Science.

After college, Bloom worked on various political campaigns for ten years. Among the people and organizations he worked for are Dianne Feinstein, Alan Cranston, Walter Mondale, FarmAid and the Government of Aruba. In 1991, he joined DDB Needham Advertising where he worked on integrated marketing plans for the San Francisco Newspaper Group, Polaris Aircraft Leasing and Park Lane Hotels.

In 1993, Bloom joined KNEW when they became the flagship station of the Oakland A's. There, he was responsible for producing the "A's History Minute" and "Dan's Dugout" pre-game programming as well as the evening sports talk show. As the A's moved to KFRC, Bloom was hired by that station as Sports Director in 1994. He produced the "Cammy's Corner" pre-game show and "Extra Innings" the post-game call-in show. Bloom also was a substitute host on "Extra Innings" as well as the "Sports Geek" on the Morning Show with Gary Bryan.

When the A's were sold to Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann, Bloom was hired as the team's Director of Public Relations in November of 1995. After it was decided to create the advertising campaign in-house, those duties were added to his responsibilities and Bloom's title was changed to the Director of Marketing Communications. In 1998 and 1999, USA Today Baseball Weekly rated the A’s advertising campaign as one of the best in baseball. The National Sports Forum recognized the 2002 campaign as the best television advertising in sports. Included in his portfolio at the A’s was Government Relations where he regularly dealt with state, county and city issues.

Bloom then moved to the Toronto Blue Jays to become Director of Consumer Marketing in January of 2003. Added to his duties in advertising were the promotions and game entertainment departments. In his first year, attendance climbed 10%, television ratings were up over 30% and unique visitors to bluejays.com was up over 66%. Ticket sales were up 36% for day-of-game walk-up, 48% for advance sales and 51% on the internet. Registered users on the internet increase from 28,000 to over 70,000. The National Sports Forum recognized the 2003 campaign as the best newspaper advertising in sports. Again, government relations was part of Bloom’s portfolio. He spearheaded the initiative of Tourism Ontario to address the loss of business due to the SARS crisis. In addition, he had to deal with several issues with stadium management.

In 1985, Bloom joined Intersport as the Vice President, Marketing. During his time at Intersport, Bloom wrote and placed an op-ed piece in Advertising Age and built marketing programs and interactive assets for a number of shows that aired on ESPN, CBS, NBC and FOX. From there, Bloom was recruited to be the VP, Business Development for Txtstation where he brought in Champ Car and Rainbow/Push Coalition as clients and was the lead on the Live Earth team. The next mobile start-up Bloom joined was 5th Finger where he has brought in LG, Qwest, Sharp, KFC, Paccar and Invest in Canada as clients. Other mobile and interactive start-ups Bloom worked with and advised were Virillion, Phizzle, Velti and iCookbook.

In the community, Bloom was a member of the board of KAMI Israel congregation and is a silver level blood donor to Lifesource. He was involved in the Oakland, CA Marcus Foster Foundation’s Principal for a Day program, and was a member of the board of the Summit Bank Foundation. From 1997 - 1999 he was the President of the UC Berkeley Fraternity Alumni Council. Among the honors Bloom has won include the Outstanding Chapter Advisor Award in 1994 for the Sigma Chi Fraternity as well as induction into the Order of Constantine.