The Smithsonian Channel collaborated with Major League Baseball to create Major League Legends, a four-part documentary series that examine the lives of four outstanding baseball players in history.
The Smithsonian Channel will kick off the series by broadcasting Major League Legends: Hank Aaron, their Black History Month special on Monday, Feb. 29 at 8:00 PT. Other players featured in the series are Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, and Babe Ruth.
“Hank Aaron gives you a different story and a different way of thinking about the importance of race and baseball and the importance of race in American society particularly as one of the first superstar athletes in the Deep South,” said Damion Thomas, Museum Curator of Sports at the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture.
Major League Legends: Hank Aaron explains the historical events and race relations that took place while Aaron was growing up.
“We always have to think about sports events and how they relate to larger stories taking place in African American history, whether it’s Segregation, whether it’s the Civil Rights Movement,” said Thomas.
The first episode of the series shows the struggles of Aaron as he grew up in the Jim-Crow South in Mobile, Alabama. While growing up, Aaron enjoyed playing softball and baseball, and he also looked up to Jackie Robinson. At 17 years of age, Aaron left home to play for the Negro League’s Indianapolis Clowns.
In 1952, Aaron began playing for the Minor Leagues Eau Claire Bears, according to ESPN. Aaron would play for another Minor League team before his Major League debut with the Milwaukee Braves in 1954.
Aaron hit 13 home runs in his rookie season and 27 home runs during his sophomore season. In 1957, Aaron won the National League MVP and led the Braves to a World Series title.
Aaron surpassed Babe Ruth’s homerun record of 714 homeruns when the Atlanta Braves faced the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 8, 1974. The Alabama native was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982.