Twenty-five years after he broke Babe Ruth's home-run record, baseball is naming an award after Hank Aaron.
Aaron, honored at a gala dinner attended by President Clinton on Friday night, will have his name on an award presented annually to the best hitter in each league.
In 1999, the award will go to the hitter with the most hits, home runs and RBIs, commissioner Bud Selig said. In future years, it will be selected by a panel.
"It's clearly for the best all-around hitter, not just for the power hitter," Selig said.
Aaron, who turned 65 Friday, finished with 755 homers. He hit No. 715 in April 1974 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, and felt snubbed because commissioner Bowie Kuhn skipped the game. Aaron also received hate mail as he approached Ruth's record.
"I can't say if race had anything to do with it and why I didn't get the recognition," he said.
Even as recently as five years ago, Aaron said much more could have been done to publicize the sport by promoting the 715th home run.
"That's the sad thing about the whole thing," he said in 1994.
Baseball has been criticized for its record on minority hiring and Selig says the sport must do more. In its last report, issued in 1996, baseball said 9 percent of front-office employees on the 28 teams are black and 8 percent of on-field employees are black.
| Hank Aaron is finally being accepted with open arms. (AP) |
Aaron, a senior vice president with the Atlanta Braves, said he was excited about the award.
"The Hank Aaron Award is finally an honor that's worthy of your achievements," said Time Warner vice chairman Ted Turner, the longtime head of the Braves.
The $500-a-plate gala, attended by Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Frank Robinson, Sammy Sosa and heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, was expected to raise more than $1 million for the Chasing The Dream Foundation Aaron and his wife started in 1994.
The Foundation provides grants to children ages 9-12 to help them develop talents for which they have shown an ability.
"By April we'll have 44 kids in the program and eventually have 755," Aaron said gathering, which included about a dozen of the children currently benefiting from the foundation.
Aaron hit his 715th home run on April 8, 1974, off Al Downing. Downing, who lives in California, was invited to attend the gala but was unable to come.
"He has an ear infection," Aaron said. "He was coming. But he did send me a nice letter."
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