Statue, Mural & Today's Young Milwaukee Players Honor Baseball Great Hank Aaron
Baseball great Hank Aaron passed away this year and will be honored at the Major League All Star Game on Tuesday. So, we thought we'd finally bring to the plate a Bubbler Talk question from 2017 that asks about Aaron statues in Milwaukee.
Like a batter trying to stretch a single to an extra-base hit, we've expanded the topic to look at other local Aaron tributes as well.
But first, a word about the superstar often called "Hammerin' Hank." Aaron played for the Milwaukee Braves from 1954-1965, and ended his playing career with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1975 and '76.
In 1974, a radio broadcast described this milestone while Aaron was an Atlanta Brave. "It's gone! It's 715! There's a new home run champion of all time and it's Henry Aaron!" exclaimed Braves broadcaster Milo Hamilton, when Aaron hit the homer that put him ahead of Babe Ruth.
Aaron went on to hit 755 home runs in the big leagues. Officially, Barry Bonds hit more. But Bonds' involvement with steroids has kept him out of the Hall of Fame and some baseball purists still regard Aaron as the home run king.
And yes, there are several Aaron statues around the U.S., including one outside American Family Field in Milwaukee. The bronze artwork is near the ballpark's ticket office. The statue is on a pedestal and shows Aaron preparing to swing his bat.
Brewers Business Operations President Rick Schlesinger says the statue has been there 20 years and remains a fan favorite because Aaron transcends generations.
"People that are young, too young to have seen him play, know about his career. People who are my generation and older that saw him play, and obviously my parents, who saw him play as a Braves player. He's sort of larger than life, if you will," Schlesinger tells WUWM.
There's also a plaque in the parking lot, where Aaron's last home run landed in County Stadium. Near American Family Field is the Hank Aaron State Trail, and the baseball slugger is depicted in a mural in the Valley Passage tunnel near 37th and Canal Streets.
But Dennis Biddle says he'd like to see more. Biddle and his wife have a store at Mayfair Mall that sells Negro Leagues merchandise. He and Aaron played in the leagues at about the same time in the early 1950s, and Biddle says they later became friends.
"I think they should have a park here named after him. I think they should have a street named after him. I think more Negro Leagues recognition should be in Milwaukee because they are a part of our history. Henry was a big part of that league because he never forgot where he came from," Biddle says.
Biddle says Aaron was one of many Negro Leagues players who were abused because of their race. "He was 18. We talked about some of the things that happened while we were on the road. I had never been away from home. He had never been away from home. He said, 'Biddle, a lot of times I felt like going back home,'" Biddle explains.
Biddle credits older players and coaches — Black men who weren't headed for the Major Leagues — with keeping future stars like Aaron in the game.
Jeff Fleming, a spokesperson for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, says a street renaming for Aaron has been the subject of discussion here and he expects the idea to move forward in the coming months.
In the meantime, part of Hank Aaron's legacy may also be at Milwaukee's Beckum Park.
"There we go!" exclaims one young man, as a teammate swings a metal bat and connects with a ball inside an indoor batting cage.
Players on the Milwaukee Stars were practicing indoors on a rainy day. This team of 10-12 year olds are some of 200 north side kids taking part in the Beckum-Stapleton Little League this summer.
Aaron visited after retiring from the majors to talk with the players and league founder James Beckum.
Stars coach Nathaniel Gaines, Jr. says it's fair to say the early career of Aaron and others help influence today. "You know, without the start of maybe say the Negro Leagues, a lot of young, urban kids, inner city kids, wouldn't even try to play baseball," he says.
Stars player Zyier Katheryne says he doesn't know a lot about Hank Aaron, other than he was a powerful hitter. But Katheryne says he likes to bat, too. "I'm a good hitter. Doubles or triples. Or RBIs," he says.
Which fits with what Hank Aaron called his motto: "To keep swinging."
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