At a private party celebrating his birthday, friends, former teammates, and luminaries paid tribute to Henry Aaron, who turned 80 on Wednesday. His tribute continued, when he spoke as part of the Living Portrait Series at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. In addition, a painting of the baseball great, done by Ross Rossin of Atlanta, will be unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery.
At a ceremony overlooking the White House, Attorney General Eric Holder motioned toward a window and paid Aaron a huge compliment, saying President Obama’s path was made easier. Former slugger Reggie Jackson compared Henry to Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947. Frank Robinson spoke of the thrill of entering the Baseball Hall of Fame with Hank in 1982. Other speakers included Hall of Famers Jim Rice, Rickey Henderson and Ozzie Smith, who grew up in Aaron’s hometown of Mobile, Alabama. Former teammate Robin Yount said he was his mother’s second-favorite player — behind Hank Aaron!
Bud Selig, commissioner of Major League Baseball, spoke of his friendship with Henry, which dates back to 1958. Selig also talked of his long overdue acceptance in a career often overshadowed by Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. As the event came to a close, Aaron and his wife of 40 years, Billie, beamed as the crowd sang Happy Birthday.
Forty years ago, Henry Aaron broke the hallowed record of Babe Ruth on his way to 755 career home runs, all while combating racism with quiet dignity. After his retirement from the Major Leagues, his legacy has continued to grow…
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