Notable Deaths in 2021


A look back at the esteemed personalities who left us this year, who’d touched us with their innovation, creativity and humanity.

By senior producer David Morgan. The Associated Press contributed to this gallery.

Baseball’s one-time home run king, Hank Aaron (February 5, 1934-January 22, 2021), endured virulent racism as he chased Babe Ruth’s home run record of 714, long held to be an insurmountable target. Aaron became a target himself, of hate mail and racist threats, forcing the Atlanta Brave to have bodyguard protection. He kept the hateful letters, he said, as a reminder of the abuse he bore.

Nevertheless, Aaron matched Ruth’s record on April 4, 1974, and topped it with homer no. 715 four days later before a sold-out Atlanta Stadium and a nationwide TV audience. (The unlucky pitcher: Al Downing of the Los Angeles Dodgers.)

Home runs were only part of his game. Aaron remains baseball’s all-time RBI leader (with 2,297) and leader in total bases (6,856). He ranks second in at-bats (12,354); third in games played (3,298) and hits (3,771); fourth in runs scored (tied with Ruth at 2,174); and 13th in doubles (624).

He won two National League batting titles, was a three-time Gold Glove winner, and recorded more than 20 stolen bases in seven seasons. His sole National League MVP Award came in 1957, when the Braves beat the New York Yankees to win the World Series (the only championship of Aaron’s career).

After 21 years with the Braves, he ended his career with two years back in Milwaukee, as a designated hitter for the Brewers. (He was traded after refusing to take a front-office job with a significant pay cut.) He added 22 homers to his lifetime total, finishing with 755, a record that would stand for 33 years (until Barry Bonds, of the San Francisco Giants, surpassed it).

“I just tried to play the game the way it was supposed to be played,” Aaron once said.

After his retirement in 1976, the Hall of Famer’s status as one of the game’s all-time greats, and as a civil rights hero, philanthropist, supporter of the NAACP, and an advocate for increased diversity among major league baseball’s coaching staffs, would lead boxer Muhammad Ali to describe Aaron as “the only man I idolize more than myself.”

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