In the past three weeks, the sporting world lost three members of baseball’s Hall of Fame: Hank Aaron, Tommy Lasorda and Don Sutton, heroes to the youth of the 1960s and ’70s.
Yes, Americans love football, but baseball is the national pastime. And that makes these legends’ deaths even more difficult.
On Friday, we lost The Hammer, Hammerin’ Hank, at age 86. The man who finished with 755 career home runs never used batting gloves. More importantly, he never used performance-enhancing drugs.
Interestingly, as a minor leaguer who had batted better than .300 the previous season, Aaron was told to switch his hands. The right-handed hitter then batted cross-handed with his left hand above his right.
He finished with the second-most home runs in Major League Baseball history while his 2,297 RBI and 6,856 total bases are still records. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982.
Although remembered as a great baseball player, he also faced tremendous pressure off the field. He received death threats as he approached Babe Ruth's career home run total of 714, a record he broke on April 8, 1974.
Born in 1933 in Mobile, Alabama, Aaron faced racial discrimination throughout his upbringing. He later became a hero playing for the Braves, first in Milwaukee, then Atlanta after the team moved south.
And, yes, Aaron had a couple of Cleveland connections. He played in old Municipal Stadium as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers in 1975 and 1976, his final two seasons. More fans will “remember” they were at those games now.
He also loved the Browns. It's been reported that he'd fly to Cleveland and sit in the Dawg Pound in disguise.
Lasorda, a longtime Los Angeles Dodgers manager, was colorful. If he couldn't make you laugh, no one could. You just couldn't call him Tom. It was Tommy.
During a 1976 broadcast of The Game of the Week, it was decided to put a mic on Cincinnati Reds manager Sparky Anderson as the Reds were taking on the Dodgers. After a few innings of Anderson mumbling, the mic was switched to Lasorda, then the Dodgers third-base coach.
“Hey, Pete Rose,” the mic-wearing Lasorda said. “We took a vote on the Dodgers and you were picked as the second-handsomest guy on the Reds. Yeah, everyone else tied for first.”
Even Rose laughed.
Lasorda's 1,599 career wins rank 22nd all-time. He was inducted in 1997 and died Jan. 7 at age 93.
Sutton, who died Jan. 18 at age 75, was inducted in 1998. With a lifetime record of 324–256, the pitcher who played for Lasorda on the Dodgers was a likeable guy whose image continued after he retired. He was a popular member of the TBS crew that broadcast Braves games in the 1990s even though he never played for that team.
This trio will be missed greatly by those who love America’s National Pastime.