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Questions for Howard Bryant on The Last Hero
Q: Why Henry Aaron?
A: After my second book, Juicing the Game, the natural progression for my thought process was heading toward one question: "Who in baseball do you admire? Is there anyone this sport can be proud of?" It wasn't simply the fatigue of writing about steroids and tainted heroes that drifted me toward Henry Aaron, but because the steroids scandal occurring during the same time as the housing-and-mortgage scandal told me something larger was taking place in this country, that the value systems we ostensibly seek--honor, integrity, accountability--were becoming almost quaint. In baseball, as the drug scandal intensified, players would tell me, "If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying." It was that level of cynicism that made me consider writing about someone who certainly was not perfect but had a larger mission for himself beyond money, that here was a person for whom those values are not quaint.
Q: Did he cooperate?
A: It took roughly eighteen months for him to agree to speak with me. I first began working on this project in May 2006 and that was in the middle of when Barry Bonds was nearing Henry’s record. Henry Aaron wanted nothing to do with the Bonds record chase. He didn't want to be asked questions about Bonds, did not want to be placed in the debate about anabolic steroids. He did not want to engage at all.
When Henry's attorney, Allan Tanenbaum, and I spoke for the first time, he was extremely pessimistic about the book and the public's reaction to Henry Aaron. He was convinced that the public did not care about him except in being positioned as the polar opposite of Bonds. He was certain that I was only interested in one thing: Bonds. Over many phone calls spanning several months (the key conversation taking place over Thanksgiving 2007), Allan finally accepted that my motives for writing the book had nothing to do with Bonds and everything to do with a man I considered to be an American icon.
A few months later, on January 31 (ironically on Jackie Robinson’s birthday), Henry Aaron and I had our first phone call. He was extremely pleasant and engaging but echoed Allan's sentiments about his own life. "People don’t care about me," he told me. "They only care about what I did as a baseball player. There’s more to me than that." I was amazed at the considerable divide that existed between the enthusiasm I received whenever I mentioned the possibility of writing about Henry and what he considered to be the public's perception of him.
Q: What most surprised you during the writing/research?
A: There were many surprising aspects of the research, which is why I truly love to research and write books. Whatever your initial thoughts of your subject are, they will invariably be altered the deeper you learn.
I was as guilty as anyone in following the accepted Aaron myth: played in Milwaukee, was always overshadowed by players in bigger markets, snuck up on even the shrewdest evaluators of talent from the day he entered the big leagues to the day when suddenly he and not Willie Mays was in the best position to break Babe Ruth's all-time home run record.
None of this is true, and that was the most surprising thing. Henry Aaron was a phenom, a top prospect from the day he joined the Indianapolis Clowns. He was a comet tearing through each level in the minor leagues, and when he arrived for his first spring in Bradenton, Florida in 1954, all eyes were on him to be the next great player.
The myth came later. As the Milwaukee Braves fell in the standings at the beginning of the 1960s, people did begin to forget about Henry, and he quietly accumulated Hall of Fame numbers. But that was only because the public lost interest in a losing team, not because it was unaware of his enormous ability.
Q: What is the lasting legacy of Henry Aaron?
A: A famous sociologist told me during an interview that the steroid scandal has created a gap between the record holders and the standard bearers of major league baseball. Barry Bonds is a record holder. Henry Aaron is a standard bearer. The latter is far more important and valuable than the former.
And it carries weight beyond the baseball diamond, where Henry always wanted respect. He spent his life being compared on the baseball diamond to Willie Mays, but Henry Aaron wanted to follow in the legacy of Jackie Robinson, to use his platform to provide opportunities for people who did not have them. Baseball was simply a means to that end.
Photographs from The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron
(Click on Thumbnails to Enlarge)
|Clemente, Mays, and Aaron|
|Jacksonville, 1953||Bradenton, 1957||Aaron and Family|
|Aaron in Atlanta||Breaking Babe's Record||Aaron Today|
The story of Henry Aaron is one that many baseball fans might be surprised to hear. Not because they have not heard of him, of course, but because of how much they may not know. Read morePublished 3 months ago by LSmith
Hank Aaron has a rightful place in sports history, but his legacy should be far greater. In many ways, he was hampered by his time, place, and personality. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
It was a good read. From the authors point of view Henry Aaron was a bitter man which is fine because of the racial tensions, but that's all it was - the authors perception. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Mardigus, My Master
Well-written and informative, this biography illuminated both the life and career of Henry Aaron and also brought into sharp relief a great deal of American history of the same... Read morePublished 11 months ago by Toborzgrrl
This is not a biography of Henry Aaron. It is a sociological history of race and not a very good one. Baseball and Henry Aaron are secondary to the story. Read morePublished 11 months ago by GMan
The most underated athletic in sports history............This book give such great insight into the man and what it meant to be a Black athletic in the 50's, 60's and 70's. Read morePublished 14 months ago by kondwani
Excellent book. Well written factual and interesting. If you are interested in Henry Aaron this is a must read for you.Published 17 months ago by Tom Dekker
I bought two books on Hank Aaron and because of the layout of one I decided to start with "HOME RUN: MY LIFE IN PICTURES," but being possessed by the influence of the... Read morePublished 18 months ago by ANTONIO ENRRIQUE WILSON