I Had a Hammer: The Hank Aaron Story

I Had a Hammer: The Hank Aaron Story

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by Hank Aaron, Lonnie Wheeler, Courtney Vance
     
 

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Henry Aaron left his mark on the world by breaking Babe Ruth's record for home runs. But the world has also left its mark on him.

"Hammering Hank" Aaron's story is one that tells us much about baseball, naturally, but also about our times. His unique, poignant life has made him a symbol for much of the social history of twentieth-century America.

Overview

Henry Aaron left his mark on the world by breaking Babe Ruth's record for home runs. But the world has also left its mark on him.

"Hammering Hank" Aaron's story is one that tells us much about baseball, naturally, but also about our times. His unique, poignant life has made him a symbol for much of the social history of twentieth-century America.

Raised during the Depression in the Deep South enclave of Mobile, Alabama, Aaron broke into professional baseball as a cross-handed slugger and shortstop for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League. A year later, he and a few others had the unforgettable mission of integrating the South Atlantic League. A year after that, he was a timid rookie leftfielder for the Milwaukee Braves, for whom he became a World Series hero in 1957 as well as the Most Valuable Player of the National League.

Aaron found himself back in the South when the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1965. Nine years later, in the heat of hatred and controversy, he hit his 715th home run to break Ruth's and baseball's most cherished record--a feat that was recently voted the greatest moment in baseball history. That year, Aaron received over 900,000 pieces of mail, many of them vicious and racially charged.

In a career that may be the most consistent baseball has ever seen. Aaron also set all-time records for total bases and RBIs. He ended his playing days by spending two nostalgic seasons back in Milwaukee with the Brewers, then embarked on a new career as an executive with the Atlanta Braves. He was for a long time the highest-ranking black in baseball. In this position, Aaron has become an unofficial spokesman in racial matters pertaining to the national pastime.

Because of the depth and pertinence of Aaron's dramatic experiences, I Had A Hammer is more than a baseball autobiography. Henry Aaron's candor and insights have produced a revealing book about his extraordinary life and time.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781559943635
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
02/16/1991
Edition description:
Abridged

Read an Excerpt

I Had a Hammer
The Hank Aaron Story

Chapter One

The day I left Mobile, Alabama, to play ball with the Indianapolis Clowns, Mama was so upset she couldn't come to the train station to see me off. She just made me a couple of sandwiches, stuffed two dollars in my pocket, and stood in the yard crying as I rode off with my daddy, my older brother and sister, and Ed Scott, a former Negro League player who managed me with the Mobile Black Bears and scouted me for the Clowns. When we got to the station, Mr. Scott handed me an envelope with the name Bunny Downs on it. Downs was the business manager of the Clowns, and when I arrived at their camp in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, I was to hand him the envelope unopened.

My knees were banging together when I got on that train. I'd never ridden in anything bigger than a bus or faster than my daddy's old pickup truck. As we pulled out of the station and Daddy and Sarah and Herbert Junior and Mr. Scott kept getting smaller and smaller, I never felt so alone in my life. I just sat there clutching my sandwiches, speaking to nobody, staring out the window at towns I'd never heard of. It was the first time in my life that I had been around white people. After a while, I got up the courage to walk up and down the aisle a few times. I wanted to see what a dining car looked like, and I needed somebody to tell me where I wasn't allowed to go. Then I sat back down, listened to those wheels carrying me farther away from home, and tried to talk myself out of getting off at the next stop and going back.

I've never stopped wondering if I did the right thing that day. I was barely eighteen at the time, araggedy kid who wore my sister's hand-me-down pants and had never been out of the black parts of Mobile. I didn't know anything about making a living or taking care of myself or about the white world I'd have to face sooner or later. I didn't know what I wanted to be doing when I was forty or any of the other things I needed to know to make a decision that would affect the rest of my life-except for one. I knew that I loved to play baseball. And I had a feeling that I might be pretty good at it.

I suppose that's reason enough for an eighteenyear-old boy to board a train and set off on his life's journey, and I suppose it's time I stopped secondguessing myself. But I'm not eighteen anymore, and two generations later I'm still living with a decision I made back when JFK was starting out as a senator. I live with the fact that I spent twenty-five of the best years of my life playing baseball. Don't get me wrong; I don't regret a day of it. I still love baseball-Lord knows, it's the greatest game in the world-and I treasure the experience. God, what an experience ...

I Had a Hammer
The Hank Aaron Story
. Copyright © by Hank Aaron. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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I Had a Hammer: The Hank Aaron Story 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is great. I'm reading it 4 a National History Day project. It has all the info on his life that he doesnt talk about much which is great. You never really know what a ball player like him went through during all the racial issuses but this is a rare book. I like how he included many details. It's so amazing that he can remember all that stuff. You dont even hav to like baseball 2 like this book, its main idea may seem like its just another book about sports but its way more than tht. The kind of things he went through is just unbelieveable!!!! I hope u choose 2 read this book. You'll hav a new respect 4 basball and a new respect about the players and what they went through (african americans)
Guest More than 1 year ago
Many people must go through life only knowing that Hank Aaron is the all-time homerun leader, but not many know the real story. After reading the book it shocks me how much he went through during his chase of the record. The letters he received and the threats he heard on the field might have cracked a weaker man, but not Hank Aaron. He continued to push for the record until he hit number 715. I really enjoyed reading the book and strongly recommend it to anyone, even if they don't like baseball.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I started following baseball when we moved to NJ in the late 60's and, serendipitously, the first season that really captured my attention was 1969. We had a color TV (a rarity at that time--it was a big old console job with stereo & turntable built-in. You sometimes had to bang underneath the picture tube with a hammer to fix the vertical hold) and our next door neighbor Joe Koberlein would come over to watch Mets games.) Unquestioningly loyal to our beloved Amazins, my brother and I had little doubt that Tommie Agee and Cleon Jones (both of whom happen to have come from Aaron's hometown of Mobile, AL) were the two best outfielders in baseball, maybe the two best ever. Our Father, who had doggedly remained a Dodger fan despite their move West, would put in a word for Duke Snider. We lived in Yankee country, so Mickey Mantle still had his backers and their were those residual Giants fans who stumped for Willie Mays--who also won allegiance from many black fans on racial solidarity grounds. But I really don't ever remember a Hank Aaron fan. Sure we knew he was good, especially during the NLCS were we reminded of how dangerous he was, but he just wasn't terribly glamorous or personable and he played for a team that noone rooted for, so to our minds he was barely worthy of notice. The, seemingly all of a sudden, we realized the guy was about to catch Babe Ruth. I remember NBC breaking into their regular programming to show his 715th HR live. Then began the arguments over just how good he was; arguments that always seemed to have a whiff of race about them. In the ensuing years this argument has hardly died down and the racial overtones have certainly not faded. In fact, the subtle assertion that the only reason you would deny Aaron primacy is that you are a closet racist has added an additional layer of bitterness to his legacy. All of this combined with Aaron's own demeanor, whether he is aloof or shy or whatever, has always led me to view him somewhat askance. There's that visceral level on which I just can't grant him equality with Ruth, let alone with the more personable Mays. So it came as a great surprise and a pleasure when this book was published, to find in its pages a Hank Aaron who was not only a great baseball player but a compelling hero and human being. Beyond simply providing a complex portrait of a gifted and proud human being, the book serves to provide some context for the pure numbers that Aaron put up in his career and, more importantly, reminds us of the backdrop of persistent racism against which these feats were achieved. We all find things easier to comprehend if they follow an easy narrative form, so when we say that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier it is easy for us to misperceive this as meaning that racism in baseball ended in the late 40's. And Aaron, because he was so good for so long, seems to us a figure of the 60's, or even the 70's. But the book reminds us that Hank Aaron began in the Negro Leagues (with the Indianapolis Clowns), played in minor leagues which had only just lowered the color bar, had to stay in separate hotels and eat at different restaurants on road trips, etc. And still, some thirty years later, as he approached the Babe's HR mark, received virulent hate mail. Aaron's incredible career takes on a patina of real grace when considered against this pervasive and corrosive pattern of racial animus. His accomplishments, monumental in themselves, must be judged as singular when taken in conjunction with the unique challenges he faced. If I were picking my all-time team today, I'd still take Ruth and Mays over Aaron (Aaron vs. Ted Williams is a tougher call.) But if you were trying to judge them all as men, I think this book makes a compelling case that Aaron is one of the really great men in the history of sports and even one of the great men in our nation's history. A lot of people have been yammering about the stupid things that John Rocker said
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He is the 2nd best black player in baseball,1st going to Jackie Robinson.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He's a legend
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