(Editor’s note: The author, Frank A. Johnson of Augusta, sent this letter to Hank Aaron, his boyhood idol, last week, just before Aaron died Friday at the age of 86.)

Dear Mr. Aaron,

With the leisure time associated with retirement and the home confines of COVID-19, I finally decided to take a few minutes to write to my all-time favorite baseball player.

As an 8-year-old just beginning to appreciate and understand baseball I watched my first World Series in 1957. Most of my friends and family were Red Sox fans, as you might expect from a native Mainer. I hadn’t established an allegiance until that ’57 Series. It was during that series that I became a lifelong Braves fan; more specifically, a Hank Aaron fan.

A boyhood friend and I watched each game and decided to celebrate after the Braves won in Game 7. We took our Braves pennants and a drum and marched down the street to the puzzled look of passersby. For the next 10 years my summers were consumed with following your career on a daily basis. I convinced my father to subscribe to the Lewiston Evening Journal because that was the only local paper that reliably carried the daily box scores. By 1960 I was arguing to my friends that you were the best all-around player in the majors.

In 1961 I persuaded my father to take the trip to Boston to see the Red Sox–Braves exhibition game in August. You might remember that for several years the Braves played the Sox in an annual exhibition game each August to support the Jimmy Fund, a local charity that benefited the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. It was a thrill for a 12-year-old to see his favorite team, and I was in awe of Spahn, Burdette, Crandall, Adcock and Mathews. But my primary objective was to see you. I still have the scorecard from that game.

After the game my father took me back to the Fenway parking lot, where visiting players boarded a bus to take them to the hotel. I didn’t get close enough to get your autograph but it was a thrill to see you and your teammates in the flesh.

I didn’t get to see you play again until April 1969, when I was attending the University of Houston. I saw you hit a home run off Denny Lemaster at the Astrodome. In a perverse way, I was concerned about the attention you received in your chase to pass Babe Ruth. I believed that coverage of the home run record overshadowed your value as a great overall player. The consistency you displayed over your long career is one of your most impressive accomplishments. While the media focused on the home run pursuit, your great overall accomplishments were nearly forgotten. That didn’t stop me from cutting a class early to get home in time to see you hit 715 on TV. The next and last time I saw you play was a weekend series at Shea Stadium the fall of 1974, in what I expected be your last season.

During the 1960s and 1970s, access to information about the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves was pretty limited in Maine. Features in The Sporting News and Sports Illustrated were the primary sources until it was clear that you would be challenging Babe Ruth’s record and media descended. My impression about Hank Aaron, the man, is summed up in one word: Dignity. Your accomplishments and long career were a testament to your respect for the game. I often wondered how you were able to cope with the press of constant media attention and the virulent racism that followed you during the pursuit of 715. You behaved with the dignity and courage that any fan would want their hero to display when standing in the glaring spotlight.

Howard Bryant’s “The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron” confirmed that you are an admirable and honorable man with an incredibly miraculous life story. Hank Aaron, the baseball immortal, is a great story of hard work, talent and discipline. Hank Aaron, the man, is an even better and more inspiring story of resilience, courage, class and dignity.

In my den I have a group of photos and posters of people who have inspired me: Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, John Coltrane, FDR, Bobby Kennedy, John Lewis and Hank Aaron — people of immense talent and strong convictions who were willing to make personal sacrifices.

Thanks for the distinct pleasure of following your illustrious career and your post playing life.

Here’s wishing you and your family a safe and healthy 2021, a happy 87th birthday, and NL pennant for the Braves.

Sincerely,

Frank A. Johnson

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