Q: You think the people who said that you'd never defeat Babe Ruth's record, actually made you break Babe Ruth's record?
A: Oh yes. There's no question about it. They drove me to it. The fans and the people that wrote all those vicious letters to me. I thought they should have been writing encouraging letters. They were writing letters trying to tear me apart. I wanted to make people eat their words.
Q: Did you ever get letters with racial slurs? Letters threatening your life?
A: Oh yeah. Many of 'em. Many times. Not only me. My daughter, my family. Got quite a few of them.
Q: What were the letters that bothered you the most?
A: Well, none of them bothered me as much as just finding out what an awful lot of people think about a black person in this country. I was doing something that I thought was entertaining to every person in this country. Records are made to be broken. I'm hoping that some day some kid will come along and finally break my record. Who the hell cares? It just showed me how much bigotry we have in this country. How many little people in this country that we have. How many people still thought that blacks had no business in baseball. That was the thing I was most resentful of.
Q: Did you actually have guards?
A: The last two years I had somebody with me all the time. In spring training. Every time I walked out of the clubhouse, someone was with me. Every time I went to the bank. If I went to Cincinatti there was someone there with me. I never could travel by myself. The sad part about the whole thing for 2 1/2 years was I never had a chance to join my teammates. They would stay in one part of the hotel and I had to stay in another part. I would be registered in one room and stay in another room. Just to decoy people off.
Q: Threatening phone calls?
A: Letters, phone calls, just a little of everything. It was a sad time in my career.
Q: In what should have been a happy time.
A: I should have been really enjoying myself.
Q: If you had been white do you think you would have had to have had an Atlanta policeman with you all the time?
A: No, no way. I don't think Pete Rose did. They just didn't want to see a black man surpass a white. I was not allowed to open letters that came to the ball park. The FBI first and then the police department.
Q: Did you feel like a prisoner to your status and your race?
A: I was. I was. It was a fishbowl.
Q: Do you ever wish your name wasn't Hank Aaron.
A: I wish my son's name wasn't Hank Aaron. It doesn't bother me as much as it bothers him. He had to live up to the things that I have accomplished.
Q: Did people judge him as having to be a great baseball player?
A: A great athlete.
Q: Has he been interested in it?
A: No. He played a little football and that was it.
Q: Do you think that's been very traumatic for him?
A: Yeah, it hurt him. He wasn't able to relax. At least he could have had the luxury of enjoying (sports) while he was a young kid in high school. The pleasure of doing just like the rest of the kids.
Q: Don't sometimes you run into a father who never made it to the major leagues who tries to channel all his energies into the sons?
A: I hate to say it but that's why you have so many terrible sportswriters. They're frustrated ex-athletes. They haven't been successful at anything. All of a sudden they see someone that the game came fairly easy to. They jump on him. He can't do anything right. You've got a lot of those bad sportswriters in this country. I hate to say that, but a lot of bad sportswriters. I do have a few that as far as I'm concerned are good friends of mine. But they are a few.
A lot of them are just downright vicious. They got too much power, sportswriters. I don't want it to be like Russia. But still newspaper people got too damn much power for me. They can say anything they want to say about me and I have no recourse at all. I can't carry it to court. I can't do anything.
Q: You don't feel that you could make your case for the media?
A: How could you do it? They always got the last pen. There's no way I can win that battle. So I just let 'em write and forget about it. But some of them are just very, very vicious when they write.
I had one here in Atlanta who I call an Archie Bunker, because that's exactly what he is. I was talking about the baseball game as being a game of racists. He jumped on me and started talking about my wife! Started talking about my whole family! He talked about my wife's ex-husband, who was deceased. He was the Rev. Sammy Williams, the doctor of philosophy who taught at Morehouse College. A very brilliant man. He said some things about him. It was a vicious article. I had several lawyers wanted me to carry him to court but why? Why? Why? I just decided I was going to forget about it. But it was very upsetting.
Q: Did you come from an affluent family?
A: No, no, no. My father was just a common laborer. He made ends meet from week to week. Sometimes he would work this week and the next two weeks he wouldn't work at all. My father was not educated, my mother was not educated. But they had a lot of mother and father in them and that beats education 10 times and over. You can understand and love other people.
Q: How many children in your family?
A: There were eight of us in the family. Four boys and four girls. One of my brothers passed away as an infant.
Q: Did you feel you were poor?
A: Yes, we were poor, and I didn't have to feel it. I know we were poor. There was three of us sleeping in the same bed. I don't see how much poorer you can get.
Q: You went to a segregated school?
Q: Did you work before you played baseball professionally?
A: I worked three jobs. I worked as an ice boy, I cut yards, and I picked blackberries. Of course, it took like a week to put some dollars in my pocket.
Q: Are you financially secure?
A: I can get along, but I have to work in order to maintain whatever I want. I got a nice home. Sixteen acres right in the city of Atlanta and I got a five acre lake back there. If I want to go fishing, I'll go fishing.
Q: Now that you're relatively affluent do you ever try and make up, with your own children, that you grew up in poverty?
A: I think that's the hard thing about growing up very, very poor and then getting to the point where you do have little things. I know I'm a long ways from being rich. But if I wanted to leave out of this office today and go on a speaking engagement for a week I could make $10,000 or $15,000. And yes, I very much spoiled my kids by giving 'em too much instead of letting 'em know that the same hard work applies to them as applied to me.
Q: Do you feel that your accomplishments, in breaking Babe Ruth's record, have failed to receive proper recognition?
A: Probably will never receive the recognition that is due.
Q: Because you're black?
Q: Does that bother you? Is that something that you live with every day?
A: No, no. It's nothing that bothers me. I'm going to be black until the day I die. I've been black for 48 years and I won't pretend not to be black. I've enjoyed my life. It's the problem that they have to deal with, not me, I don't have to deal with it. I hit the home run, they got to figure out how they going to continue to snub it.
Q: Have people found ways to snub it?
A: Oh yes, oh yes. S - - -, now they talk about the Japanese ballplayer, Sadaharu Oh. He got 800 home runs. I'm the second best -- home runs. I saw some article saying, "It was Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron and now it's Sadaharu Oh, Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron."
Q: Sadaharu Oh has hit more home runs than you have, but he's hit them in Japanese baseball. Do you think that compares at all to your record?
A: No, I know damn well it doesn't. He's a great ballplayer, but he did it in Japan. It's not professional baseball.
Q: Is it like the Great White Hope?
A: That's true. That's why ice hockey is so popular in parts of America now. Because the average white fan don't have to identify with with black hockey players. If you talk to the average black person in this country they don't know anything about ice hockey. That is one reason why ice hockey in certain parts of this country is so popular.
Q: How come you didn't do that many endorsements, aside from the relatively unsuccessful $200,000 one for Magnavox?
A: That was a million dollars for Magnavox, not $200,000. But I don't know.
Q: You didn't get offers? My God, you're Hank Aaron.
A: I didn't get the offers.
Q: A sportswriter in this newspaper said that when you were conquering Babe Ruth's record that the fame sickened and soured you. That you received fame in almost terminal doses. Did you feel that way?
A: I was doing no more than I had done before. I was averaging 35 or 40 home runs a year. I was scoring a hundred and some runs. All of a sudden everybody starts focusing their attention upon me.
It came in doses, and to be very honest with you, it was frightening. If the white sportswriters in this country had had their druthers who they would rather have break the record -- Willie Mays or Hank Aaron -- they would have said Willie Mays. Willie's not going to be very controversial. I'm the one that tells people what I think. They want you to laugh and scratch your head. I'm going to tell everybody what I think is right. If you don't accept the fact, the hell with you.
Q: You think they couldn't accept intellect in a ballplayer, especially when he's breaking Babe Ruth's record?
A: They couldn't accept that in me because they didn't think about me at all as being the one that was most likely to break the record. They don't say it out loud but I can see the little bugs ringing in their ear. They say how the hell did he slip up and do it? For 14 years nobody interviewed Hank Aaron.
Q: Do you think no one ever really cared about what Hank Aaron has to say?
A: Oh, I'm sure they cared. I could say something that would make the news today. For example, about me making a statement about being the commissioner of baseball. Hell, I'm serious as a heart attack about that. I want to be the commissioner. Hell, why not? It's the best job in baseball. I don't see where it's going to be that complicated. They've had some guys in there that screwed it up already. I think that I could do a better job as some of the rest of the guys. I just think that things in baseball need to be discussed seriously. I think that there are some franchises in baseball that are in serious trouble.
Q: Which ones?
A: Cleveland, Minnesota to name two of 'em. And there may be one or two other ones.
Q: What would you do to save them as commissioner of baseball?
A: First of all -- which may not be a very popular thing with the players -- you've got to put a cap on the salaries. Keep good ballplayers in these cities.
The second thing, try to have interleague play. In the last part of the season, the Cubs are 20 games out and the White Sox are 20 games out, what would be wrong with having the Cubs and the White Sox play a series? Do you think it would draw?
A: Damn right it would. What would be wrong with having the Mets and the Yankees play an interleague series? I'm talking about for real. I'm not talking about a charitable game. I'm talking about baseball.
Q: How does one get to be commissioner of baseball? How do you lobby for it? Is it like the pope? Do they send smoke signals?
A: I've sent my smoke signal already.
Q: What do you think the odds are that Henry Aaron will be the next commissioner of baseball?
A: Oh, I think it's very good.
Q: You think next month you'll be commissioner of baseball?
A: I just think my chances are as good as anybody else's.
Q: Even though you're black?
A: Yeah. I hope they don't hold that against me.
Q: Do you ever want to go into politics?
A: No, no, never did.
Q: Are any of the current presidential contenders trying to get your endorsement?
A: I have had calls from Glenn, Mondale. I went to some meetings when Glenn was here.
Q: Several people have written books about the traveling and the god-like status of baseball players affecting marriages. How do you feel about that?
A: I say it's a piece of trash. People are looking for something to sell. Wives writing about ballplayers having girlfriends on the road. They marry these guys. There ain't nobody pushin' them. My wife, as much as I travel, she's never accused me of anything. And I've had opportunities to do most anything I wanted to do. I don't come back telling her anything. I just don't really understand why all of a sudden all these books on ballplayers have come out saying, well all I want to is just tell the truth.
Q: What did you do after the games when you were traveling?
A: Went home and went to bed.
Q: You didn't go out with your teammates or anything like that?
A: I went right to my hotel and went to bed.
Q: Are you a loner?
A: That's me. I am a loner.
Q: What do you? Watch TV?
A: I used to watch a lot of television and later on in my career I started reading a lot.
Q: What sort of books?
A: Magazines. I started reading a lot of newspapers. I got to be a fan of the soap operas before they were popular and were a half an hour still.
Q: What was your favorite?
A: "As the World Turns."
Q: Are there things that you can't do because you're such a celebrity?
A: I remember one time getting on a flight with Jane Fonda. She took a blanket and put it over her head. She didn't take it off until she got to Los Angeles. Sometime you'll put your arm in a sling as though you had sprained your arm. Just get tired of signing autographs.
Q: A few years back you said you'd like to own a major-league baseball club. Are you still interested?
A: Ha, ha, if I said that I must have been dreamin'. If I had that kind of money I could think of a hell of a lot of ways that I could spin it around without owning a baseball club.
Q: Do you miss playing baseball?
A: Not at all. Not one bit. First of all I can't put on the uniform any more. It's too little. I'm a little bigger than that now.
Q: Don't you ever think about picking up the bat again, once again hitting some runs in the stadium?
A: None whatsoever. I will never play baseball again.