The year 2021 started off ominously for the Atlanta Braves, despite ending in a World Series Championship.
On January 22, 2021, the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves lost an icon with the passing of Henry “Hank” Aaron. “Hammerin’ Hank” as he became known for breaking George Herman “Babe” Ruth’s home run record with 755 career home runs, was an ambassador for the game itself, not just for the Braves or for Major League Baseball. He shared his love for the game and inspired countless players of all ages. Aaron could be seen at youth games and practices throughout the Atlanta area, giving talks on the game and how it relates to life in general, and even meeting with today’s active Major League Players.
Rarely, if ever, was Aaron seen in a baseball setting of any sort without a smile on his face.
Briefly appearing in the Negro Leagues and Minor League Baseball, Aaron debuted his Major League career on April 13, 1954, playing for the Milwaukee Braves. Between then and October 3, 1976, he built a Hall of Fame career that included breaking Ruth’s home run record, as well as current records for the most All-Star selections at 25, most All-Star games played as shared with Willie Mays and Stan Musial at 24, most career runs batted in (RBI) with 2,297, extra-base hits at 1,477, and total number of bases at 6,856. These statistics, combined with his three Gold Gloves and his National League Most Valuable Player (MVP) award in 1957; his being in the top five for career hits with 3,771, second place with 12,364 at-bats, third place in games played of 3,298, and only of four players with 17 seasons of 150 or more hits, all led to Aaron being known as one of the game’s most prolific power hitters.
Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982 on his first ballot, Aaron received the second-highest percentage of votes with 97.8%, only behind Ty Cobb for this historic level.
Throughout his life, Hammerin’ Hank dedicated his life to the game of baseball. He became one of the game’s best ambassadors to the public. Because of this, his jersey number 44 was retired by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1976 as recognition from the city where his Major League career began, and by the Atlanta Braves the next year in 1977.
The city of Atlanta even named a street that runs along the location of the original Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and then Turner Field for him. As Turner Field was originally built for the Summer Games of the Olympics held in Atlanta in 1996, Hank Aaron Drive was featured prominently in broadcasts of the Games worldwide.
Aaron’s passing at the start of 2021 was an omen of sorts that the Atlanta Braves used to spur them onward to a World Series Championship season. His importance to the team was displayed in many ways, not the least of which was the constant and continuous mowing of the number 44 into the centerfield grass at Truist Park, the Braves’ home stadium, throughout the season.
The number 44 and Aaron’s legacy and influence played a crucial role in the team’s success through the year, as well.
The All-Star Break generally marks the halfway point in the Major League season. In 2021, the Braves won 44 games on both sides of the Break, for a total of 88 regular-season wins. Further prompting the team to “step up” and win it all, Ronald Acuna suffered a season-ending injury at the point that the Braves were 44-44; while Acuna was considered a team superstar at the time, the injury allowed the rest of the team to display their collective resilience and a teamwide dedication to success.
To top it all off, the Tuesday Night win of the World Series came in the 44th week of the year.
While it has always been a desire of fans of Hank Aaron to have the stadium, and not just a road, named in his honor, the Braves have agreed to a sponsorship deal from SunTrust Bank, now Truist Bank, to place the bank’s name on the stadium and the surrounding area as Truist Park.
Using the numerology of the events of the season, combined with the loss of the great “Hank,” Braves’ fans have a renewed interest in seeing their baseball idol honored even further.
Started in 2019, a petition on change.org by Michael Campbell to Liberty Media and the Atlanta Braves seeks to change the name of Truist Park to “Henry ‘Hank’ Aaron Park.” At the time of this writing, there were three similar petitions on change.org seeking similar name changes. Campbell’s petition was credited with 770 “signatures,” with this number expected to grow immensely in light of the Braves’ World Championship.