In 2007, Henry Aaron received a hero's welcome at his home
state’s capitol as he was sworn into the Alabama Academy of Honor, joining
prominent politicians, industrialists and luminaries from the state such as
novelist Harper Lee and (then) Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Aaron, who grew up in segregated Mobile, Alabama, where he
learned to play baseball in a pecan grove and was too poor to own a
bat…compared the tribute from his home state to his greatest honors, including
most valuable player trophies, a World Series title and induction into the
Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y.
Alabama Governor Bob Riley hugged Aaron after he was
inducted into the hall and later gave him a state lapel pin, saying the state
doesn't have a better representative. “The Alabama Academy of Honor recognizes
living Alabamians for accomplishments reflecting great credit on the state,”
Riley said of Hammerin’ Hank. “We couldn’t have had a better person
representing our fine state over the years.”
"I was thrilled beyond words," said Aaron after
soaking up several standing ovations from the more than 200 people who crowded
into the old House chamber for the ceremony. "It's good to be back
in Alabama where I learned to play the game and that's been such a big part of
my life," said Aaron who still serves as an executive with
the Atlanta Braves.
Aaron held the record as Major League Baseball's all-time
home run hitter from 1974, when as an Atlanta Brave he hit homer 715 to break
Babe Ruth's record, until July of 2007, when San Francisco's Barry Bonds broke
Aaron's record of 755.
Bonds’ pursuit of the home run record Aaron, who was often lauded for his
dignity and respect as a baseball role model, said he was gratified by those
descriptions. “There are so many ball players that don't accept being a
role model, and we are role models," Aaron said.
Asked if as a child he ever thought he would someday be
honored at the Alabama Capitol, Aaron said, "I never thought about
it. But regardless of what happened years ago, I'm here now.”