Monday, October 3, 2011

The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron

The Last Hero: A Life of Henry AaronThe Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron by Howard Bryant

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a walk through a time in America that was not a pretty one for a black person growing up in much of the country. For Henry Aaron, it is also a story about a man trying to escape the repression and American style apartheid that he grew up with, even as he became an American icon for his exploits on the baseball field. Henry's life journey through Jim Crow laws and stifling oppression in America, to his landing as an American hero for breaking the legendary Babe Ruth's home run record, is a journey every American who wishes to understand American racism should take. Even as Henry broke a record that was considered unbreakable, the racism prevalent in American culture was moving to change Ruth's record as the single biggest baseball accomplishment in the sport's history to Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak as the record that all records should be measured by.

Equally telling in this tome is Aaron's relationship with his peers and with younger players as he became the aging icon that many of the new players looked to for leadership and guidance. From Aaron's worship of Jackie Robinson to his disdain for Barry Bonds to his enduring racial put-downs by legendary teammates such as Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette, Henry Aaron had quite a journey through some of baseball's most tumultuous years.

It is a triumph for Aaron that he emerged as a successful businessman who, unlike many present day athletes who end up bankrupt almost immediately after their playing days end, succeeded in the business world and is now able to enjoy his retirement without concern for financial woes.

This book should be a must read for anyone who enjoys baseball, baseball legends, and a journey through an America that is gone, but still with us.