Patrick Reusse
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Henry Aaron moved from Milwaukee with the Braves to Atlanta in 1966, bringing major league sports to the city, a few months before the expansion Falcons would start playing in the NFL.

Aaron was born in Mobile, Ala., in 1934, when baseball was the preferred sport of American youngsters, even though the competition was segregated in the South, and in what was classified as the major leagues.

That started to change in the majors when Jackie Robinson played first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the season opener on April 15, 1947.

Yet, the vestiges of segregation remained in 1952, when Aaron dropped out of high school and signed to play with the Indianapolis Clowns in the Negro American League.

Aaron signed with the Braves and played in Eau Claire, Wis., in 1953. You can see an excellent tribute to Henry outside that city's busy ballpark.

He jumped from the Class C Northern League to the National League for 1954 and became a superstar in Milwaukee. By the time he arrived in Atlanta in 1966, he was Hammerin' Hank, and by the time the 1973 season ended, he was standing at 713 career home runs, one behind Babe Ruth's all-time record.

During the summer of 1973, legend has it that Aaron hired a secretary to handle the 3,000 pieces of mail that he was receiving a day, and a fair share that was racist hate mail.

There were death threats, and there were milder suggestions such as one repeated in an ESPN article recently: "How about a little sickle cell anemia, Hank."

Aaron broke Ruth's record on April 8, 1974, the home opener in front of 53,775 fans in Fulton County Stadium, and the photo we so often see has some happy white fans chasing him around the bases in celebration.

What that photo didn't hint at were the stacks of hate mail that continued to roll in. Years later, Aaron revealed the hate mail was so devastating to him that he kept some of it. And, he would go up to the storage place on occasion to confirm it wasn't a bad dream, that people were that hateful based on him being a successful Black man.

Forty years after the home run, the All-Star Game was played at Target Field. Commissioner Bud Selig was the guest in a private home gathering on a Monday night.

Selig had brought Aaron back to Milwaukee at the end of his career as the owner of the Brewers, primarily (I'm certain) because "Bad Henry" was his favorite player from the Braves' glory days. And as commissioner, he brought Aaron as an ambassador for special events.

My wife and I were there. She had gone to games at County Stadium with her younger brother, Chas, with him pointing to what side of the exit she should guard to get Braves autographs.

On that night in 2014, my wife said hello to Aaron and informed him of her pursuits of his autographs all those years earlier. He broke out a huge smile.

Happy Hank. It was great to see.

On Tuesday, a photo circulated of Aaron, now 86, receiving a COVID vaccine inoculation in Atlanta as a message to older Black Americans to not "have any qualms about it at all."

A few hours later, around midnight in Minnesota, it became apparent that Georgia — the state where Aaron's hate mail was once delivered in bushel baskets — had elected a Black man, Rev. Raphael Warnock, to the U.S. Senate.

I was thinking, somewhere in Atlanta, Aaron had a happier smile than that night before the All-Star Game.

Wednesday at noontime, I decided that Warnock getting elected was so historic that it would be worth tracking down some athletes among us with a Georgia connection.

The theory being, we've had some rough times, and still do with the crafty virus now ready to offer mutations, but when the great Stacey Abrams can rally Georgia to send Warnock to the United States Senate … maybe the rednecks are on the run.

Then, I flipped on the smallish TV here in the home office, to see if the official approval of incoming President Joe Biden was progressing. And what was there was a mob of white people — not all with redneck scruff, not more'n 75% — trying to take over the U.S. Capitol.

They were doing this after an inspirational speech from their leader, Donald Trump. The mob was able to send congressmen and congresswomen running for cover, demonstrating as they did why it was that even NFL owners wanted nothing to do with the Trumpeter when he tried to get in their club.

"This isn't really us," we kept hearing Wednesday, from the mortified future president and pundits. But, sorry Sen. Warnock and Hammerin' Hank, it's a big bunch of us, I'm afraid.