The Grace of Hank Aaron (1934-2021)

Hank Aaron died yesterday, and the news is full of tributes to the major-league baseball pioneer and home-run king who broke Babe Ruth’s record. MLBPA director Tony Clark tweeted, “Generations of players have walked, and will continue to walk, on a trail that Hank Aaron blazed with his determination, courage, singular talent and grace.”

What does “grace” mean here and elsewhere? Many people have attached that word to Aaron. ESPN writer Howard Bryant suggests that grace captures his response to the vicious racism that dogged him throughout his career. Journalists characterized him as “bitter” when he critiqued it and “dignified” when he sucked it up; Bryant writes that “dignified” is both “complimentary and condescending.” But in the end Aaron seemed not just to endure the ugliness but to rise above it. “Decency” is another quality many people attribute to Aaron. It’s another ingredient in grace as well.

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