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A Prisoner of Memory
Mike Capuzzo
December 07, 1992
Eighteen years after he broke Babe Ruth's home run record, Henry Aaron can't forget the racist threats that haunted his quest
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December 07, 1992

A Prisoner Of Memory

Eighteen years after he broke Babe Ruth's home run record, Henry Aaron can't forget the racist threats that haunted his quest

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Later that day Aaron climbed again into his attic. Not to read the letters from fans who had named their high schools and their children after him, the folks who wrote saying that home run No. 715 was more important than the moonshot. Not to read one of the 20,000 congratulatory telegrams he received on April 9, 1974.

As he still does on such days, Aaron read other letters, letters of hatred and cruelty and ignorance that America once sent its Home Run King, missives that break his heart but somehow sustain him. When he broke Babe Ruth's record, Aaron says, "my real job was only starting." He says he saw that God must have chosen him to break the record for a reason—not just to clear fences but to hammer down walls. He promised to use the record "like a Louisville Slugger." He vowed, 18 years ago, never to forget.

In the vast stillness of his wooded estate, in the long quiet of his reign, the Home Run King keeps taking his cuts. Pain and redemption are joined now, like bat to ball. "I read the letters," he says, "because they remind me not to be surprised or hurt.

"They remind me what people are really like."

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