Legendary baseball icon Hank Aaron died Friday at age of 86. The home run record breaker’s swing took him from a poverty-stricken Mobile, Alabama, to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
A Paducah native was lucky enough to share the field with him. Eddie Haas played with Aaron on the Milwaukee Braves and they remained life-long friends.
“He loved everything,” Haas said Friday. “I mean, he was nice to everybody, he had a great personality, a real true personality. And that’s what made him stand out from most other people.”
Haas got his start on the fields in the Paducah area. He eventually worked his way up into the Major Leagues as a player and later in various roles. He served as Atlanta Braves manager in 1985.
Haas and Aaron were teammates briefly with the Braves in the late 1950s. An ankle injury cost Haas the season, and eventually his career. But, he was still able to stay with the organization.
“They hired me as a minor league hitting instructor,” Haas said. “I would go to the Major League camp and help throw batting practice; of course I was about 27 or 28.”
He also recalls a time when he helped Aaron with batting practice on a hot spring day.
“He asked me to scoot up a little bit in front of the mound and throw hard to him inside so he could get used to hitting Major League fastballs in on him.”
The next thing Haas knew, the ball slipped right out of his hand.
“Oh mercy, it went right straight for his head and he didn’t have a helmet on, of course. He got down out of the way of it and he got up and I wanted to quit. ‘Oh Eddie, that’s all right.’ So we rested a minute and come back and he wanted me to pitch him inside but I said, ‘No, uh-uh, I’m not doing that.’ I just pitched him out over the plate.”
Through it all, Haas said, Aaron never let fame get to his head — and is grateful to call Hank Aaron a teammate, but more importantly, a friend.
“He never was just ‘The Hank Aaron’ type. He did a lot of things, just not for me, for a lot of people. People knew he hit those home runs, but they didn’t know how good he was, how he treated most other people.”
Aaron finished his career with 755 home runs. He held the career home run record until 2007, when he was passed by Barry Bonds. Aaron still holds Major League records for RBIs (2,297), total bases (6,856) and extra-base hits (1,477).