Hank Aaron, legendary baseball slugger, dies at age 86

Hank Aaron, the right fielder for the Atlanta Braves, shown in this close up photograph, was named to the National League All Star team for the 16th straight year.

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Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, who rose from poverty in segregated Alabama to become one of the greatest players of all time, has died. He was 86.

Aaron “died peacefully in his sleep,” the Atlanta Braves said in a statement Friday. There was no information immediately available about when Aaron died or the cause of death.

Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s 714 home run record, set in 1935, in 1974 and remained home run king for 33 years, when Barry Bonds surpassed his 755 total. Aaron still ranks No. 2 to Bonds’ 762 total.

Aaron finished his 23-year MLB career with a .305 battling average, and his 2,297 RBI still stands at the top. He was on the All-Star team 25 times and was the National League batting champion twice. He also was the league’s most valuable player in 1957 during his Milwaukee Braves’ World Series championship season, in which they beat the New York Yankees.

“We are absolutely devastated by the passing of our beloved Hank,” Braves Chairman Terry McGuirk said in a statement. “He was a beacon for our organization first as a player, then with player development, and always with our community efforts. His incredible talent and resolve helped him achieve the highest accomplishments, yet he never lost his humble nature.”

Born in poverty in 1934 in segregated Alabama, Aaron began his baseball career with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League in 1952 after leaving his hometown of Mobile with only $2 in his hand.

“My mother told me that was all she had to give me and be very careful with it,” Aaron told NBC News in an interview last summer.

Aaron quickly transitioned into Major League Baseball, where he started playing for the Milwaukee Braves in 1954.

His debut in the MLB came seven years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, at a time when only 5% of players in the league were Black.

Even as Aaron was chasing Ruth’s record, which stood for nearly 40 years, Aaron continued to face racism.

“I couldn’t go out of the ballpark without an escort. I had to stay in another hotel, rather than stay in one with my teammates,” Aaron said in an NBC News interview. “It was the toughest moment of my life.”

At age 40, Hammerin’ Hank Aaron broke the mark on April 8, 1974, while playing with the Atlanta Braves. That season, he returned to Milwaukee to play for the Brewers for two seasons.

“We are heartbroken and thinking of his wife Billye and their children Gaile, Hank, Jr., Lary, Dorinda and Ceci and his grandchildren,” McGuirk said.

— CNBC’s Marty Steinberg contributed to this report.

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