ATLANTA — Hank Aaron, who endured racist threats with stoic dignity during his pursuit of Babe Ruth but went on to break the career home run record in the pre-steroids era, died early Friday. He was 86

What You Need To Know

  • Hank Aaron, the baseball legend who held the game’s all-time home run record for 33 years, died Friday morning

  • His death was confirmed by the Atlanta Braves; a cause of death was not immediately known

  • Aaron played 24 years in the majors for the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers

  • In 1957, he was the National League MVP and led the Milwaukee Brewers to a World Series championship

The Atlanta Braves said Aaron died peacefully in his sleep. No cause of death was given.

Aaron made his last public appearance less than two weeks ago when he received the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Hammerin’ Hank” set a wide array of career hitting records during a 23-year career spent mostly with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves, including RBIs, extra-base hits and total bases. He returned to Milwaukee for the final two years of his career to play for the Brewers. He also briefly played for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League.

Aaron was selected to 21 consecutive All-Star Games and enshrined in baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1982. In 1957, he was the National League MVP and led the Milwaukee Braves to a World Series title, beating the New York Yankees in seven games.

The Mobile, Ala.-native was a two-time batting champion and four-time home run leader. But the Hall of Famer will be remembered for one swing above all others, the one that made him baseball’s homer king.

It was a title he would hold for more than 33 years, a period in which Aaron slowly but surely claimed his rightful place as one of America’s most iconic sporting figures, a true national treasure worthy of mention in the same breath with Ruth or Ali or Jordan.

On April 8, 1974, before a sellout crowd at Atlanta Stadium and a national television audience, Aaron broke Ruth’s home run record with No. 715 off Al Downing of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Aaron finished his career with 755. Barry Bonds surpassed that in 2007 —though many continued to call the Hammer the true home run king because of allegations that Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs.

"We lost a legend," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said in a tweet. "Hank Aaron was my childhood hero of heroes. He was an amazing person and a fantastic baseball player. He was such a big part of Milwaukee.

Fellow Hall of Famer Frank Thomas called Aaron the "standard of greatness."

Fellow Braves legend Chipper Jones said Aaron "spread his grace on everything and every one he came in contact with."

NBA legend Magic Johnson said Aaron "is on the Mount Rushmore for the greatest baseball players of all time."

Stacey Abrams called Aaron an "extraordinary soul."

"We will miss you," CEO of The King Center Bernice King wrote. "Your leadership. Your grace. Your generosity. Your love."

Former President Jimmy Carter, a Braves fan, issued a statement calling Aaron a "dear friend."

"One of the greatest baseball players of all time, he has been a personal hero to us," Carter said. "A breaker of records and racial barriers, his remarkable legacy will continue to inspire countless athletes and admirers for generations to come."

Added former President George W. Bush, who once owned the Texas Rangers: "The former Home Run King wasn’t handed his throne. He grew up poor and faced racism as he worked to become one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Hank never let the hatred he faced consume him.”

Aaron is survived by his wife, Billye, and five children. 

Correction: A previous version of this article said the Negro American League had recently been designated a major league, but that designation did not include the season when Aaron played for the Indianapolis Clowns.