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Baseball greats toast Hank Aaron for 80th birthday

Aarons 80th

WASHINGTON (AP) - At a hotel overlooking the White House, Attorney General Eric Holder motioned toward a window and paid Hank Aaron a huge compliment.

"The young man who lives right over there," Holder said Friday night, speaking of President Barack Obama, "his path was made easier by this man."

Forty years ago, Aaron broke the hallowed record of Babe Ruth on his way to 755 career home runs, all while combating racism with quiet dignity.

On Friday evening at a private party celebrating his 80th birthday, friends, former teammates, and baseball luminaries paid tribute to "Hammerin' Hank."

Slugger Reggie Jackson compared Aaron to Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball's color barrier in 1947. Frank Robinson spoke of the thrill of entering the Hall of Fame with Aaron in 1982.

Former teammate Robin Yount said he was his mother's second-favorite player - right behind Aaron.

Aaron was last to speak and grew emotional as he talked of his parents, recalling an afternoon when he and his brother were called into the house and ordered to hide under beds. Minutes later, members of the Ku Klux Klan marched up their street.

"I don't know what that could have done to me growing up," Aaron said. "But my mother - she was uneducated and father, too - but they always taught me and all of my siblings that the thing I want you to remember is, 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' That's been my philosophy."

As the ceremony came to a close at the Hay-Adams hotel, Aaron and his wife of 40 years, Billie, beamed as the crowd sang "Happy Birthday."

Aaron turned 80 on Wednesday. His tribute will continue on Saturday when he speaks as part of the Living Portrait Series at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

In addition, a painting of Aaron, done by Ross Rossin of Atlanta, will be unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery.

Other speakers on Friday night included Hall of Famers Jim Rice, Rickey Henderson and Ozzie Smith, who grew up in Aaron's hometown of Mobile, Ala., idolizing the outfielder who played for the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers.

"He showed me the way a person should be," Smith said. "He inspired me and thousands of others."

Bud Selig, commissioner of Major League Baseball, spoke of his friendship with Aaron, which dated to 1958.

Selig also talked of the overdue acceptance of Aaron in a career in which he was often overshadowed by Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays.

"I'm not so sure people understand what a great all-around player he was," Selig said. "He played in Milwaukee. He played in Atlanta. I think it was only maybe after he broke Babe Ruth's record - and in the last 20 years - that he's got the wonderful recognition that he so extraordinarily deserved."

NOTES: Selig had no comment on Alex Rodriguez dropping his lawsuit against the commissioner, Major League Baseball and the players' association, referring to a press release earlier in the day. ... Former teammate and popular broadcaster Bob Uecker got the laugh of the night when he spoke of meeting Aaron for the first time as a member of the Braves. "Henry dressed a couple lockers from where I was," Uecker said. "I said hello. He said, 'What do you do?' I said, 'I'm a catcher.' He said, "For who?"

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tomidesmar February 09 2014 at 1:02 AM

Here is the real home run king, Not Barry Bonds. I also remember as a kid listening to Harvey Haddix 12 inning perfect game that ended in the 13th inning. Aaron didn't get a hit in that game, yet after all these years, I only remember he and Haddix played in the game which should have ended as a 3-0 shutout because Aaron passed a base runner and was ruled out, thus ending the game 1-0.

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Pantino4 tomidesmar February 09 2014 at 9:33 AM

Wow, you may be witness to this man's only base running error. Happy Birthday, Sir.

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lvnchevy1 February 08 2014 at 8:11 PM

Happy Birthday to Mr. Hank Aaron. Surely one of the best. I was lucky enough to meet him at an autograph signing here in Michigan a few, maybe many , years ago. Congratulations, and best wishes for many more.

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dlyfaith February 08 2014 at 4:17 PM

Happy Birthday to 'Hammerin' Hank' , and many more to come. God bless

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jcimino25 February 08 2014 at 6:49 PM

Happy birthday to the REAL HOME RUN KING!. There was a story abt a reporter in Mobile or some where he was interviewing Jackie Robinson in a dugout and this young man was in a batting cage hitting balls all over the place. Jackie told the reporter to hold on, I want to tell you who ever that is in the cage hitting like that is to be watched because someday he's going to be a great one. well it happened to be a young Hank Aaron. So much said. It might not be exact but close to that story some what Again HAPPY BIRTHDAY ``Stay well and God bless you

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dangerpass February 08 2014 at 4:17 PM

Hank Aaron was a hero of mine as a young baseball player. He was and is among the classiest people of all time. He is still a hero of mine.

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Charlie February 10 2014 at 5:22 PM

Happy Birthday...You are a true role model for all young men to emulate. Congratulations on your brilliant career and inspirational life.

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soccerced February 10 2014 at 12:18 AM

I met him near the end of his playing career, what a classy guy. We talked about his early days in Milwaukee and the trouble he had in finding a house. But no bitterness, just positive about how things have gotten better. Happy Birthday Hammering Hank!

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FYI February 09 2014 at 7:26 PM

i remember those games at Crosby field and Riverfront Stadium. Hank you are a Natural!

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Hello, Bob February 09 2014 at 5:21 PM

Mr. Hank Aaron: Just a few memories of your wonderful career. Watched you as a Milwaukee Brave many times, What a great ball player and person you were and are. Thanks. My younger brother, Jim, mowed your lawn when you lived on 14th st in Milwaukee. Happy Birthday Bob,

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Mike February 09 2014 at 4:28 PM

Quite probably my favorite player of all time and the real home run king. Classy guy.

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