When Sandy Tolan was nine years old, his hero left town. In 1965 Henry Aaron and the Milwaukee Braves moved to Atlanta, but unlike the other Milwaukee kids, Sandy continued to follow Aaron's career from afar, straining to hear the games at night through the crackle of distant AM radio stations. Aaron's heroics provided an anchor for Sandy in the turbulent late '60s and early '70s, and the young white fan felt a bond with the black superstar.
In 1973, Sandy began keeping a scrapbook to track his idol's approach to the greatest record in sports -- Babe Ruth's 714 career home runs. But he soon learned that Hank Aaron had become the target of racist hate mail and death threats. Shocked and wishing to help somehow, he wrote Aaron a letter, saying, "Don't listen to them, Mr. Aaron. You're my hero." To his astonishment, he got a letter back. "Dear Sandy," the baseball legend wrote, "Your letter of support and encouragement meant much more to me than I can adequately express in words."
Twenty-five years later, armed with his scrapbook and the old letter, Sandy Tolan went to Atlanta to meet his hero. "Me and Hank" is his account of baseball, heroism, race, and childhood dreams, as he taps the bittersweet recollections of the home run king and those around him. Among the people we meet are:
Aaron's daughter, Gaile, who had to be placed under FBI protection for her own safety.
Dusty Baker, the young teammate who saw Aaron's perseverance and quiet courage as a model to aspire to.
Civil rights leader Andrew Young, who realized what Aaron meant to Atlanta as it struggled to free itself from the mindset of segregation.
Felix Mantilla, who with Aaron broke the colorbarrier in the Deep South's Sally League in 1953.
Bud Selig, the former Milwaukee car dealer and future commissioner of baseball, who brought Aaron home to finish his career.
James McClain, a Vietnam veteran, now homeless, who saw Aaron as the embodiment of all that blacks could now achieve in America.
Weaving these reflections with his own, Sandy Tolan explores the landscape between a hero's aspirations and the reality of his struggle; between a young fan's wishes and their delivery, a generation later, to a middle-aged man; between the starkly different ways that whites and blacks in America experience and remember the same events. "Me and Hank" is a portrait of a true American hero whose example resonates far beyond the playing field.