By Jack Belanger ’21
Two weeks ago, the baseball world lost its former home run king, Henry “Hank” Aaron, marking the ninth baseball Hall of Famer to pass away within the past calendar year. Aaron’s passing calls us back to a much different time, when baseball was America’s National Pastime and the best players were icons. Baseball reigned during the ’50s and ’60s, and with each death of aging legends, the further we move from baseball’s golden era.
Each of the Hall of Famers were giants and represented what was once great about the game. Aaron’s chase to break Babe Ruth’s long-time home run record captivated the entire country in 1973. Less than 30 years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, Aaron becoming baseball’s home run king was another victory for the Black community.
The late Bob Gibson pitched three complete games for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1967 World Series and won all three starts. For comparison, not one pitcher made it past the sixth inning in the 2020 World Series. Instead, the country got to see journeymen relievers come out to pitch a single inning at a time on baseball’s biggest stage. In the NBA, you want your best player taking the last shot. In the NFL, you want your quarterback taking deep passes down field as the clock ticks down. For the fan’s sake, would it not be more exciting to see a team’s best pitcher on the mound when the game is on the line?
The late Los Angeles Dodger manager, Tommy Lasorda, had a personality that is completely devoid in the game today. The longtime manager was never shy to get after an umpire for a bad call and brought more energy to the dugout as a 70-year-old than most players show today. His love for the game led him to working in LA’s front office well into his 90s. Don Sutton, another popular Dodger who passed away, established himself at LA’s ace during the 1970s and went on to be one of the few men who have won 300 games in the major league.
Tom Seaver, Al Kaline, and Joe Morgan were the faces of their franchises in New York, Detroit, and Cincinnati respectively. Each won the World Series and were the top performer on their teams for the majority of their careers. Lou Brock set the all-time steals record temporarily and helped St. Louis to multiple titles. Whitey Ford was a crucial part of the New York Yankees dynasty, winning a total of six World Series titles.
Baseball may not have the same pull that it once did, but that should not diminish the significance of those who came before. The men that we lost were more than just great players. They were household names, heroes to many, and in Aaron’s case: an activist. They were the bridge that connected us to our ancestors who watched them play over 50 years ago.