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

Sandy Tolan, Author Free Press $24 (320p) ISBN 978-0-684-87130-1
In 1973 baseball's greatest hitter, Hank Aaron, was nearing his greatest moment: surpassing Babe Ruth's 714 career home runs. As a result, Aaron received death threats and hundreds of pounds of hate mail, his daughter needed 24-hour FBI protection at college and his imminent achievement was all but vilified because many whites didn't want to see a black man best the cherished record of an iconic white man. Sixteen at the time and a lifelong fan of Aaron, the white Tolan was appalled at this racism and wrote his hero a letter of support. Aaron replied with a warmhearted letter, setting up the connection that sparked this enlightening memoir and prompted Tolan, a radio producer, to look up his hero in 1998. Tolan first visits Aaron to talk about breaking Ruth's record, then he interviews dozens of others on the same subject, including members of Aaron's family and his own. The result provides not just a chilling foil to the chivalric home run chase between McGuire and Sosa, but also a portrait of race relations from the 1950s until now. For blacks, Aaron's achievement was as significant as Jackie Robinson's crossing of the color line. But, while whites generally remember the well-publicized hatred that stalked Aaron, they have, according to Tolan, ignored his record (which remains undefeated) and made licensing Ruth's image a $3-million-a-year business. The author's sentimental recollections of childhood grow somewhat repetitious, and each chapter has the same tone of disbelieving outrage as Tolan's NPR piece that inspired the book. Still, the work is a worthy complement to Aaron's I Had a Hammer, and a valuable contribution to the civil rights bookshelf. Author tour; 20-city radio satellite tour. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/29/2000
Release date: 06/01/2000
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-7435-0053-1
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-684-87131-8
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