Facebook Social Button Twitter Social Button Follow Us on InstagramYouTube Social Button Follow Me on Pinterest
NewsVideosLive ScoresTV ListingsTournamentsRankingsLucky Letcord PodcastMagazine

By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, January 26, 2021


Hank Aaron, who passed away on Friday at age 86, sits at the 2010 US Open chatting with fellow Hall of Famer Frank Robinson (standing) with actor Alec Baldwin sitting behind him.

Photo credit: US Open Facebook 

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Years before legendary slugger Hank Aaron was blasting baseballs out of parks all over America, he was a shy, skinny kid from Mobile, Alabama belting bottle caps around the back yard.

Kyrgios: Novak Is Our LeBron and Must Be Accountable

One of eight children, Aaron grew up in a segregated neighborhood in a home without indoor plumbing or electricity and grew into one of the most gracefully explosive players baseball has ever seen—the game’s true home run king—and a beloved and respected ambassador for sport.

Hank Aaron passed away peacefully in his sleep at age 86 on Friday.

Baseball fans know Hank Aaron for displaying amazing grace, courage and class amid ugly racist taunts and death threats that required him to travel with a policeman for two years as he chased down and eventually broke Babe Ruth’s home run record hitting his 715th homer in 1974.

You may know Hank Aaron as an American icon whom Muhammad Ali famously called “the only man I idolize more than myself”, as the player who hit 20 or more home runs for 20 straight years, as a music fan who quoted the Beatles in his Hall of Fame induction speech, as personable superstar sporting a mega-watt smile and as a big-hearted sports fan who dressed “in ratty old clothes and a stocking cap” to sit in the Dawg Pound with fellow football fans cheering his beloved Cleveland Browns.

But did you know Hank Aaron was a devoted recreational tennis player and avid tennis fan?

Aaron attended the US Open (the photo above shows a seated Hammerin’ Hank chatting with fellow Hall of Famer Frank Robinson standing to his left and actor Alec Baldwin seated behind him) and took up tennis in Atlanta, which remains one of the nation’s top tennis hot spots.

Following his retirement from MLB in 1976, Aaron briefly flirted with softball, but ran into an issue
"I couldn't hit that big slow thing"so he switched to tennis and played the sport with passion.

In a Biofile interview Aaron did with writer Scoop Malinowski at a Major League Baseball dinner in New York City the late 1990s he cited six Grand Slam champions as his favorite tennis players.

“Monica Seles. Venus and Serena Williams. Martina Hingis. Pete Sampras,” Aaron replied when asked his favorite players. “And I guess my all-time favorite would have to be John McEnroe.

“I respect pro tennis players as much as any athletes for their conditioning and mental toughness.”

Though he stood six-feet tall and his playing weight was never listed above 200 pounds, Aaron hit 755 career home runs—and is widely regarded by many baseball fans as the true home run king. Because Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record without ever taking performance enhancing drugs that inflated the pharmaceutically-enhanced power hitters who stalked the steroid era beginning in the 1980s eventually shattering some historic records.

The beauty of Aaron’s streamlined swing was predicated on fluid timing he honed hitting bottle caps rather than brute force of a hacking tomahawk chop. Maybe that’s one reason why the man who started and ended his career in  Milwaukee and spent his prime playing for the Atlanta Braves admired those six tennis champions, who are all at their best stepping in and playing off their front foot.

Relying on preternatural timing and smooth hands Aaron learned to hit the ball early riveted on those dipping bottle caps—a skill those six champions might call hitting it on the rise.

After years of swinging at bottle caps in the backyard, a baseball may well have looked like a beach ball to Aaron, who ranks third all time in MLB history with 3,771 career hits.

“I never swung the bat like other power hitters. Most of the great home run hitters
like Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds—hit with their weight on their back foot,” Aaron told The Biofile. “But I was the opposite. I had my weight on my front foot. I got my power from lashing out at the last instant with my hands.

“If you’ve ever tried to hit a bottle cap, you know that you can’t sit back. The way those things dip and float, you’ve got to jump out and get it. That’s the way I’ve always hit.”

It’s intriguing that right-handed Aaron, a power hitter so dynamic no park could contain him, would pick left-handed finesse artist McEnroe as his favorite player. The smiling slugger enjoyed the slashing style of a snarling McEnroe.

In his book Days of Grace, Arthur Ashe, McEnroe’s former doubles partner and Davis Cup captain, spoke of the strong character connection he felt to McEnroe.

Though they displayed completely disparate demeanors on court, Ashe, who was taught to channel slights and taunts he endured on court into stoic aggression, came to regard McEnroe as his “shadow self.”

”I learned not so much to turn the other cheek,” Arthur Ashe wrote, ”as to present, wherever possible, no cheek at all.”

Virginia gentleman Ashe wrote of coming to view brash Queens kid McEnroe as a sort of tennis id to his super ego. McEnroe could erupt expressing all of the rage and frustration that burned within Ashe, but that he was trained to repress and reshape into cool competitive mask.

Maybe Aaron, who withstood death threats during his chase of Ruth’s record, and was unwavering in delivering annual excellence over a 23-year career could relate to Ashe’s feelings on McEnroe. Perhaps Aaron, who once summed up Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson's ferocity bluntly—"he would even knock you down in your own on-deck circle,"—respected the competitive fire raging in a fellow competitor. Or could it be one supremely-skilled ball striker buzzed by seeing another pure ball striker in action?

Ultimately, maybe Hammerin’ Hank just enjoyed Johnny Mac’s style of playing off the front foot and hitting on the rise.

Hank Aaron showed genuine joy talking tennis—and true humor and humility assessing his own tennis game.

“Tennis is a game that makes you feel like you’re really playing something,” Aaron said. “I love every minute of it.

“Sometimes my forehand is too strong. I have a tendency to hit it out of the ballpark.”


Latest News