Baseball lost one of its greatest players and strongest advocates for civil rights Friday with the death of 86-year-old Henry Aaron.

For 33 years he held what many consider the sporting world’s most treasured records, hitting 755 home runs in a 23-year career. But, as one of the last major league stars to have previously played in the Negro Leagues, he was also an outspoken advocate for racial justice and minority hiring in baseball’s managerial and front office positions.

Muhammad Ali said Aaron was “the only man I idolize more than myself.” President Barack Obama said Aaron “was one of the strongest people I’ve ever met.”

Aaron often played in the shadow of baseball greats of his time, including Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. But when he retired in 1976, he held the career records in home runs, RBIs, total bases and games played. He was voted an All-Star in 21 of his 23 seasons and was also regarded as one of the greatest defensive outfielders, having won three Gold Glove awards.

But he will forever be remembered for his pursuit of Babe Ruth’s record of 714 home runs, during which, as a Black player, he received numerous death threats and hundreds of threatening letters. He broke the record on April 8, 1974. His stoic, workmanlike quest for the record earned him respect beyond the baseball world, allowing him to advocate for causes that too often are still ignored today.

The above editorial was published Jan. 25 by the Mercury News. Its views are its own.

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