One morning in Milwaukee in 1972, Homelands’ co-founder Sandy Tolan read in the sports pages that his childhood hero, Henry Aaron, was getting hate mail and death threats for following his dream. Aaron, the superstar outfielder for the Atlanta Braves, was approaching what was then considered the greatest record in sports: the career home-run record of 714, held by the legendary Babe Ruth.
Aaron was Black and Ruth was White. During his chase, Hank received 929,000 letters. Some cheered him on, but many were filled with racist hate and violent threats. Outraged, Sandy sent a letter of his own. “We’re rooting for you up here in Milwaukee,” he wrote.
Remarkably, Aaron responded.
Henry Aaron died on January 22 at age 86. In an essay in The Atlantic, Sandy recounts what Aaron wrote to him in 1972 and describes how the correspondence led to Sandy’s first book, Me and Hank: A Boy and His Hero, Twenty-Five Years Later (2000). The book was ostensibly about a ballplayer and a fan. In fact, it – like Aaron’s life – was about much more than that.