Aaron celebrates his 75th birthday

Aaron celebrates his 75th birthday

ATLANTA -- Approximately one week before winning the 1992 general election, Bill Clinton's aides told him that he needed to make one more trip to Georgia to create the remote possibility of carrying the traditionally Republican state.

Further persuasion was provided when the aides told Clinton that Hank Aaron would join him during the last-minute campaign stop in Atlanta.

As Clinton remembers, he responded, "Well, if I go and get to meet him, I don't care if I carry [Georgia] or not."

When Clinton arrived in Atlanta, he spoke to a crowd of approximately 25,000, half of whom he's convinced showed up simply to see Aaron.

Three days later, when Clinton carried the state of Georgia by 13,000 votes and won the presidential election, Aaron immediately thought about the fact that this represented half the total of people who had come out to hear that final campaign address in Atlanta.

"He has never let me forget that," Clinton said. "He told me, 'James Carville and all these other people say they won the election for you. I'm the only one who has carried a state for you and don't ever forget that.'"

As he spoke during Aaron's 75th birthday party in Atlanta on Thursday night, Clinton said he has never forgotten this or any of the countless contributions the legendary athlete has provided on and off the baseball field.

"On your birthday, we all have to acknowledge that you have given us more than we could ever give you," Clinton said as he looked at Aaron and concluded his speech.

Clinton, Commissioner Bud Selig, children who have benefited from the Hank Aaron Chasing The Dream Foundation and many others who attended Thursday's celebration, talked about how Aaron's greatness extends far beyond what he did during his record-breaking baseball career.

"He's a beautiful person, and if there is a such thing as a role model, he would be it with a capital 'R,'" said Bill Bartholomay, who began his enduring friendship with Aaron when he became the Braves owner in 1962.

While serving as the event's emcee, Hall of Famer Dave Winfield said there was no other place in America that he'd rather be. Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo shared in this sentiment upon his arrival.

"There are very few genuine sports heroes. Tonight we mark the 75th birthday of a genuine sports hero and a man who to many of us remains -- and always will remain -- the authentic and enduring home run king."
-- Bob Costas, on Hank Aaron

"Hank is a very gifted human being, who is very humble about those gifts that he has," Cuomo said.

Andrew Young, a former Atlanta mayor and United States Ambassador to the United Nations, was among the speakers who viewed Aaron as one of the men who helped change the culture that has allowed Barack Obama to become the leader of the United States.

"The man we are honoring tonight is the quintessential classy American athlete," Young said. "They don't come any better than Hank Aaron."

Humble throughout all the greatness that he's achieved, Aaron likely wouldn't have approved this kind of extravagant birthday celebration if not for the fact that the proceeds will benefit his Chasing The Dream Foundation, which provides underprivileged children the opportunity to experience activities they can't afford.

"I just want to thank you for just being here tonight," Aaron said. "This is something I'll always remember. As most of you have already attested to, it's not about the birthday party, it's about the kids."

When Aaron ended his Hall of Fame career with an unmatched mark of 755 home runs, he envisioned the opportunity to provide this same number of children the chance to enrich their lives through music, education, athletics and other enriching endeavors.

That total has already reached 822, and with the assistance of Major League Baseball and the Boys and Girls Club of America, the Chasing the Dream program has the necessary funds to endure for many years to come. The plan is to benefit 44 kids -- matching Aaron's uniform number -- on an annual basis.

"He's just the same nice person, quiet and thoughtful, that he was when I met him in 1958," Selig said. "Here he is, he breaks the most remarkable record in American sports and has a meteoric career that neither one of us could have imagined, and yet he's never really changed."

Selig first knew Aaron as one of his favorite members of the Milwaukee Braves, and over the course of the past 51 years he has since come to know him as one of his closest friends. At the same time, he considers The Hammer to be the best baseball player he's ever seen.

While saying this, Selig made it known that this was in no way a slight to the greatness Willie Mays displayed.

"I believe Hank Aaron was the greatest player of our generation."
-- Bud Selig

"I grew up watching Hank play his first game and his last game," Selig said. "While I know a lot of people would answer 'Willie Mays,' I believe Hank Aaron was the greatest player of our generation."

When Aaron surpassed Babe Ruth's home run record, he immediately vaulted into a legendary status that is reserved for very few athletes. Ruth, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods are other members of this exclusive group.

"There are sports stars, many of them," legendary broadcaster Bob Costas said during his eloquent speech on Thursday night. "But there are very few genuine sports heroes. Tonight we mark the 75th birthday of a genuine sports hero and a man who to many of us remains -- and always will remain -- the authentic and enduring home run king."

Selig first marveled at Aaron as the young player who had the uncanny ability to consistently deliver rocket line drives to the opposite field. Later, the Commissioner saw The Hammer evolve into a Hall of Fame player, who at the age of 75, now undoubtedly stands as a beloved legend.

"This has been a tremendous journey for me and is something I will never forget," Aaron said.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.