Jason's Reviews > The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron

The Last Hero by Howard Bryant
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Jul 07, 11

Read in June, 2011

Outstanding biography of Henry Aaron. Bryant explores the difference between "Hank" Aaron, the public persona of perhaps the greatest all-around baseball player ever who, unfortunately I think, is mainly associated with one feat: breaking Babe Ruth's career home run record, and the real, intensely private individual, Henry Aaron. Briefly covers Aaron's childhood and adolescence, then proceeds year-by-year from his rookie season in 1954 to the World Series championship in 1957 through the end of the 1950s. After that, not so much detail is given year-by-year, but instead the focus becomes the Braves' move from Milwaukee to Atlanta, and then as the chronicle moves into the 1970s, the recognition of Aaron as not only one of the game's best players, but the one man who would challenge, and eventually overtake Ruth. Then comes the unamicable departure from the Braves, returning to Milwaukee to play two washed-up seasons for the AL Brewers. From there the reader fast-forwards to the 21st century, where the now elder statesman is faced with the no-win situation of the reviled Barry Bonds chasing and breaking his record. Bryant's treatment of Aaron largely justifies, in my view, Aaron's ongoing reticence with the media; often portrayed as distant, cold, aloof with those who chronicled his career or sought his public opinion, Aaron had good reasons to act this way. His perception of and activism against racism, first in American society and secondarily in the the game he loved, was informed by the deeply segregated youth he experienced in Alabama. While Aaron's struggles will never be so famous as those of the singular pioneer, Jackie Robinson, they were in many ways no less severe. Robinson never, in the minor or major leagues, had to play in the Deep South. And he never chased the hallowed record of a white man from the pre-integration era. While playing Aaron's most notable and equivalent contemporary was Willie Mays, but Mays has always projected a comical public persona, and the fact that he was THE Willie Mays meant that he got concessions everywhere in the nation that common African American men, and even Aaron himself in some instances, could not enjoy.

If you are a fan of baseball history in general, and Aaron and/or the Braves more specifically, The Last Hero is a highly informative and worthwhile read.
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