In his office now, Aaron's hands are chopping the air. "People say I'm bitter, but they haven't walked a mile in my shoes. Arthur Ashe said it was harder for him to be a black person in this country than to have AIDS, and I can understand it. You're on trial every day. I go into a department store and they wait on the white man first, even if this black man's been waiting 20 minutes longer. Happens every day. If I wasn't Hank Aaron, who hit 755 home runs, I'd be just another nigger.
"People say, 'I can't see how your cards sell for so much less than Mickey Mantle's,' like $2,000 for my top card to $25,000 for his. He had a great career; I had a great career too. It's racism.
"Funny how Babe Ruth's 714 home runs was the most impressive, unbreakable record in sports until a black man broke it. Then it shifted. Now it's DiMaggio's hitting streak."
On the walls of Aaron's office are pictures of him with Presidents Ford and Carter, with Henry Kissinger and Ted Turner. There are honorary degrees. There is little to suggest that this is the office of the greatest home run hitter who ever lived.
But this thought sustains him. A century from now someone will open The Baseball Encyclopedia and go no further than the first name: Aaron, Henry Louis, a shade behind Pete Rose and Ty Cobb with 3,771 hits, and the alltime leader in home runs (755), RBIs (2,297), extra-base hits (1,477) and total bases (6,856—a full 722 ahead of the next guy, Stan Musial).
By then Aaron will at last be at peace, under a simple headstone: "Just 'Here lies Hank Aaron, born 1934, died whenever,' " he says. "No use paying a long tribute. They didn't do it when I was playing, no use doing it when I'm dead."
The old woman walks slowly from the flying pan, sets down a platter of trout fillets, a bowl of corn, a hunk of bread, and says, "Sit right here. That's where he sat as a boy."
She raps a deeply lined knuckle on the table. She says, "Tell him he's got to forget, got to let go. He can't worry about things you can't control. He's got to put his faith in the Lord. God wanted him to have that record. He didn't steal it. He earned it. I tell him no one can take it away from him nohow.
"I think he's got to play some tennis, stop runnin' around on airplanes everywhere, sit back and enjoy himself now. I tell him to relax and forget, to come down here and watch the world go by. What's Hank Aaron got left to prove?"
On most days he is warmed by friends and a large and adoring family, warmed by a wife who urges him to see all the love in the world. He has opportunities to open his heart to others as few men can. Aaron spends long hours each year reaching out to the children of Big Brothers/Big Sisters, for which he has raised more than $7 million. He met a woman in the street, a mother from the projects who didn't have food for her babies, and it made him think of another mother, long ago, who often didn't have food for her babies. He sent his secretary to take the woman to the supermarket to buy her enough food to last a long time. He wants children to know that even if they're poor and black, they can still achieve a dream.