Me and Hank: A Boy and His Hero, Twenty-Five Years Later

Tolan, Sandy

Published by Free Press, 2001
ISBN 10: 0684871319 / ISBN 13: 9780684871318
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Synopsis: In 1965, when Sandy Tolan was nine, his hero left town. Unlike other Milwaukee Braves fans, Sandy continued to follow Hank Aaron and his teammates, even though they were now seven hundred miles south in Atlanta. In 1973, as Aaron closed in on Babe Ruth's career home run mark, the black slugger received racist hate mail by the ton. Shocked, Sandy wrote his hero a letter of support. A few weeks later, Aaron responded. Dear Sandy, Aaron wrote. Your letter of support and encouragement meant much more to me than I can adequately express in words. Twenty-five years later, Tolan embarked on a journey to meet his oldhero and to understand, through family, teammates, and civil rights leaders, a legacy of courage and dignity that resonates far beyond the playing field. Me and Hank 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; and between the starkly different ways blacks and whites experience and remember the same events.

Review: For decades 714 was the holiest number in baseball. When Hank Aaron began closing in on Babe Ruth's career home run record he also began receiving racist hate mail and death threats: "You are not going to break the record established by the great Babe Ruth if I can help it. My gun is watching your every black move."

In the midst of all the anger and hate, a white teenager named Sandy Tolan wrote a letter to Hank Aaron. "Don't listen to them, Mr. Aaron. We're in your corner. You're my hero. I believe in you." To his great surprise, several weeks later Tolan received a reply--from Hank Aaron himself. Tolan kept the letter, taping it into a scrapbook he was keeping to follow Aaron's home run record chase.

Twenty-five years later, Tolan, now a journalist, had the opportunity to finally meet Aaron. He recounts the meeting, and his decades-long admiration for the man in Me and Hank. No mere hagiography, Me and Hank lingers on a difficult question: Why was Hank Aaron's home run record less celebrated than Babe Ruth's? Or as Aaron himself put it in 1979, "Isn't it funny? Before I broke his record, it was the greatest of them all. Then I broke his record and suddenly the greatest record in baseball is Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak." Tolan uses Hank Aaron and the Babe's home run record as a prism through which to examine racial tensions in America--both in the 1970s and in the 1990s. Along the way he visits the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown (where Ruth has a room all his own while Aaron has "a wall and a locker"), meets Charlie Danrick, who sells audio tapes of old baseball games (the tape of number 715 "doesn't sell. It just lays there. People don't buy it."), and befriends a homeless black man from Atlanta who was in the stands on April 8, 1974 ("And when I seen him hit the ball ... it felt like he passed the civil rights bill to me.") At times angry but always thoughtful, Me and Hank provides a much-needed window into baseball, race relations, and even American history. --M. Stein

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Title: Me and Hank: A Boy and His Hero, Twenty-Five...
Publisher: Free Press
Publication Date: 2001
Binding: Paperback
Book Condition: Used: Good

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