Henry Aaron, the legendary Atlanta Braves slugger who broke Babe Ruth’s career record for home runs and battled racism, died on Friday, Major League Baseball confirmed. He was 86.
Nicknamed “Hammerin’ Hank,” Aaron knocked 755 home runs over the span of a 23-year playing career in the major leagues, a record-setting milestone that he held for more than three decades. He was among the greatest baseball players to ever take the field.
Born in 1934 in Mobile, Ala., Aaron swept into the Negro American League as a hugely talented outfielder before signing with the Milwaukee Braves in 1952. He shot into the big leagues two years later and won most-valuable player honors in 1957 as he led Milwaukee to a World Series victory.
Aaron continued to rack up hits, homers and All-Star honors after the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966. He belted his 715th home run in 1974, marking an achievement the pursuit of which drew death threats and racist attacks as Aaron neared the record Ruth held for almost 40 years.
Aaron, who was Black, was unfazed by the racist threats and hate mail aimed at deterring him from breaking the white New York Yankee legend’s record. His determination won worldwide praise from political leaders, celebrities, sports figures and fans.
“What a marvelous moment for baseball,” said sportscaster Vin Scully as he called Aaron’s historic home run on April 8, 1974. “What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world.”
“A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron.”
Aaron finished his career two years later with the Milwaukee Brewers and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. He joined the Atlanta Braves’ front office as senior vice president and received many awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He lived in Atlanta.
In 2007, Aaron congratulated former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds for breaking his career home-run record, saying he would “move over now” as another great player took the title of all-time home run king.
“My hope today, as it was on that April evening in 1974, is that the achievement of this record will aspire others to chase their own dream,” Aaron said in a video message.
Athletes, sports writers and political leaders commemorated Aaron with resounding words of praise on Thursday. Other Braves legends including former sluggers Dale Murphy and Larry “Chipper” Jones highlighted Aaron’s legacy on and off the field.
“There was a certain spirit, even a reverence, when in Hank Aaron’s presence that you could feel,” Murphy said. “Grace, strength, integrity. We were blessed to have known him.”
“He spread his grace on everything and everyone he came in contact with,” Jones said. “Epitome of class and integrity.”
“One of the greatest baseball players of all time, he has been a personal hero to us,” said former President Jimmy Carter. “A breaker of records and racial barriers, his remarkable legacy will continue to inspire countless athletes and admirers for generations to come.”
“Hank Aaron was a trailblazer and a hero who had to stare down hatred,” said former CBS News anchor Dan Rather. “He was also one of the best ballplayers to ever play the game. He was a joy to watch and a marvel to behold.”
“Watching him break Babe Ruth’s record for most home runs on television was a monumental moment,” said musician Lenny Kravitz. “As a young Black child, he inspired me to push for excellence.”
“Hank Aaron was an American icon and one of Georgia’s greatest legends,” said Gov. Brian Kemp. “His life and career made history, and his influence was felt not only in the world of sports, but far beyond – through his important work to advance civil rights and create a more equal, just society.”
Georgia officials overseeing the state’s COVID-19 vaccine program are awaiting word from the new Biden administration on whether more doses will head their way amid an early shortage.
Pharmacies and health clinics had given out more than 550,000 doses to Georgia nursing homes, hospitals and people at least 65-years-old as of Thursday, marking roughly half of the vaccines Georgia has received so far, said state Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey.
That’s far short of the 2 million Georgians now eligible for the vaccine who will need two doses each.
Gov. Brian Kemp said officials will move “as quickly as we can” to distribute vaccines if Georgia’s current allotment of 120,000 doses per week increases with the new president.
“I can’t control the supply we’re getting,” Kemp said at a news conference Thursday. “But if we get more … we will do everything in our power to empower not only the government, but also private-sector partners to get this vaccine in people’s arms.”
Biden, who was inaugurated Wednesday, has pledged to distribute 100 million vaccines over the next three months by using the federal Defense Production Act to spur vaccine production and setting up Federal Emergency Management Agency-run vaccination centers.
More than 1,600 clinics, pharmacies, doctors and groceries have signed up to administer vaccines in the month or so since Georgia’s rollout started, Toomey said. Their success depends on how much supply the federal government and manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna can muster in the coming weeks.
“This is a federal program,” Toomey said. “All the logistics are done at the federal level.”
Despite concerns, Kemp and Toomey said COVID-19 vaccines are now stocked enough to ensure Georgians already vaccinated once will be able to receive the necessary second dose for full inoculation. That’s due to a federal program making headway on vaccinating residents and staff in nursing homes through CVS and Walgreens pharmacies, Kemp said.
“These additional doses in the short term will allow existing providers and public-health departments at the county level to expand the number of appointments that they are currently scheduling,” Kemp said. “But our total supply … does not fulfill the demand from seniors and other at-risk eligible Georgians.”
Georgia’s vaccine rollout kicked off in mid-December at a slow pace, hindered by short supplies and an imbalance in demand between health-care workers in rural areas who have shown less zeal for vaccination than metro Atlanta hospital employees who have rushed to schedule appointments.
Meanwhile, deaths stemming from the highly contagious virus have ticked up in recent weeks, Kemp said. The grim news comes during spike in COVID-19 infections over the winter months that’s showing signs of a slowdown, Kemp said – but which is still hammering communities even harder than the devastating outbreaks of summer.
The governor urged Georgians Thursday to continue wearing masks, washing hands and keep distance from each other as fatigue over safety measures takes root nearly a year after the pandemic began.
“Our hospitals cannot handle another surge of COVID-19 patients on top of their current workload,” Kemp said. “This is not an all-clear signal. We’ve got to continue to keep our foot on the gas.”
More than 700,000 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Georgia as of Thursday afternoon, with nearly more 150,000 more reported positive antigen tests indicating likely positive results. The virus has killed 11,511 Georgians.
State health agencies in Georgia are weathering last year’s budget cuts from the COVID-19 pandemic with a boost from the federal government and by working more remotely, several agency heads told state lawmakers Thursday.
An increase of hundreds of millions of dollars in the federal share of Medicaid costs helped the state Department of Community Health (DCH) cover more Medicaid-eligible families and children “than we have ever had before,” said DCH Commissioner Frank Berry.
The number of Medicaid recipients in Georgia spiked by more than 150,000 between March and August of last year, increasing to about 2 million recipients as of September, according to federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services data.
DCH officials managed to save nearly $345 million under a federal policy allowing states to reduce their payment shares for Medicaid through the end of June this year, after which officials expect Georgia’s Medicaid costs to increase by about $201 million in fiscal 2022.
Larger federal spending on Medicaid also saved about $32 million in costs that would have been cut last year from the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), which treats more than 200,000 Georgians with mental health and substance abuse issues.
Mental-health caseworkers benefitted from relaxed rules on telehealth that allowed them to keep seeing clients remotely who may have otherwise fallen into crisis situations requiring emergency hospital care, said DBHDD Commissioner Judy Fitzgerald.
“There is no aspect of health and human services that has not been touched by the pandemic,” Fitzgerald said. “Every impact of our delivery service has been dramatically changed very rapidly as a result of [COVID-19].”
Health-focused agencies pitched lean budget proposals Thursday after weathering roughly $2.2 billion in spending cuts last year across state government from the pandemic. State lawmakers are assessing budgets through June 2022 that would avoid the 10% cuts approved during last year’s legislative session.
Federal funds also propped up the state Department of Human Services (DHS) with $30 million for home-delivered meals and caregiver support for the thousands of elderly Georgians the agency serves, said DHS Commissioner Robyn Crittenden. Her agency is seeking an extra $1 million for more elder-abuse caseworkers.
Meanwhile, the state Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) is set for about $14 million in savings after adopting out foster kids to homes last year. DFCS Director Tom Rawlings told lawmakers the agency has reduced the number of foster children in its care from 15,000 to 11,200 since 2018 but could move faster if placement hearings were not suspended due to the pandemic.
“We’ve got to have those hearings to move those children into successful permanency,” Rawlings said.
With the budget picture clearer, agencies like Berry’s DCH are preparing to spend millions of dollars on implementing Gov. Brian Kemp’s health insurance changes starting in July. DCH officials are also grappling with a nearly $700-million deficit projected in the next few years for the state health benefit plan, which covers around 665,000 government and school employees in Georgia.
The amended fiscal 2021 and fiscal 2022 budgets for the agencies are poised for approval in the coming weeks as the General Assembly continues the 2021 legislative session.
U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock of Georgia were sworn in Wednesday hours after President Joe Biden was inaugurated the nation’s 46th commander-in-chief.
With Georgia’s two new senators now seated, Democrats have control of both chambers in Congress and the White House for at least the next two years until the 2022 midterm elections. Ossoff and Warnock, both Democrats, unseated Georgia’s incumbent Republican senators earlier this month, marking the first time since 2002 that Democrats will occupy the state’s two Senate seats.
Ossoff and Warnock took the oath of office with newly inaugurated Vice President Kamala Harris, who became the first woman and person of South Asian descent to hold the nation’s second-highest office. Harris campaigned several times in Georgia ahead of the Nov. 3 general election and Jan. 5 runoffs and now holds a tie-breaking vote in the Senate thanks in large part to Ossoff’s and Warnock’s wins.
Georgia Democratic leaders showered Ossoff and Warnock with praise shortly after they took the oath of office from the Senate floor late Wednesday afternoon.
“With today’s swearing-in, our Senators are ready to deliver on health, jobs, and justice for all Georgians,” said U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, who chairs the Democratic Party of Georgia. “I know they will make us proud.”
Ossoff, a 33-year-old Atlanta native who runs an investigative journalism company, is now the youngest Senate member and Georgia’s first Jewish representative in the chamber. He defeated former U.S. Sen. David Perdue by 54,944 votes in the Jan. 5 runoffs, limiting the Republican to a single term.
Warnock, a Savannah native and senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, becomes the first Black senator after preaching from the same pulpit once held by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He ousted Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler by 93,272 votes, ending her tenure barely a year after she was appointed to fill the seat vacated by retired U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.
Warnock will need to run again in 2022 for a full 6-year term since his current tenure only covers the final two years of Isakson’s term.
The Democrats’ wins came after Biden beat former President Donald Trump in Georgia by 11,779 votes in the Nov. 3 general election, becoming the first Democratic candidate to carry the Peach State since 1992. At his inauguration Wednesday, Biden called on Americans to focus on unity and truth after the divisive four years of the Trump administration.
“We must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured,” Biden said. “Disagreement must not lead to disunion … I will be a president for all Americans.”
Record-breaking turnout in the Senate runoffs solidified Georgia’s position as a battleground state with closely fought elections for at least the next decade and drew the eyes of America and the world, summoning nearly $1 billion in campaign and outreach spending along with visits from dozens of celebrities and national politicians.
Both Democrats overcame fierce Republican attacks seeking to by Perdue and Loeffler to paint them as socialists, a campaign strategy many political analysts agree failed as Ossoff and Warnock stuck with more hopeful messages on health care , criminal justice, workers’ rights and the COVID-19 response.
Perdue, a former corporate executive from Sea Island, and Loeffler, an Atlanta businesswoman, were also hamstrung by their loyalty to Trump as the outgoing president trashed Georgia’s election system following his election loss. Both Republicans conceded defeat earlier this month.
The Biden administration now faces an easier road to appointing Cabinet members and passing legislation with Democratic majorities in both chambers. Nonetheless, the new president has pledged to take a moderate approach and work with leaders on both sides of the aisle.
“Today, we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause: The cause of democracy,” Biden said at Wednesday’s inauguration. “At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”
Veteran Georgia Public Service Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, a Republican, was also sworn in Wednesday to another six-year term in a ceremony at the Jackson County Courthouse. He defeated Democratic challenger Daniel Blackmon by a narrow margin in the Jan. 5 runoffs.
U.S. Sens.-elect Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock of Georgia are set to take office after results of their Jan. 5 runoff wins were certified on Tuesday.
The Democratic soon-to-be senators will give Democrats control of both chambers of Congress and ease the way for President-elect Joe Biden to push his incoming administration’s legislative priorities for at least the next two years.
Ossoff and Warnock unseated Georgia’s incumbent Republican senators earlier this month, marking the first time since 2002 that Democrats will occupy the state’s two Senate seats.
They could take office as soon as Wednesday, the same day as Biden’s inauguration. Gov. Brian Kemp first needs to approve the election results Georgia Secretary of State Brad certified on Tuesday.
Ossoff, an Atlanta native who runs an investigative journalism company, defeated former U.S. Sen. David Perdue by 54,944 votes in the Jan. 5 runoffs, limiting him to a single term.
Warnock, a Savannah native and senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, ousted U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler by 93,272 votes, ending her tenure barely a year after she was appointed to fill retired U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s seat.
The Democrats’ wins came after Biden beat President Donald Trump in Georgia by 11,779 votes in the Nov. 3 general election, becoming the first Democratic candidate to carry the Peach State since 1992.
The runoff outcomes were historic beyond party lines. Warnock is poised to become Georgia’s first Black senator and Ossoff will become the state’s first Jewish representative in the Senate.
With voter turnout at nearly 4.5 million, the runoffs solidified Georgia’s position as a battleground state with closely fought elections for at least the next decade and particularly in 2022, when Kemp will likely face Democrat Stacey Abrams in a rematch of the heated and close 2018 gubernatorial election.
The two Senate races drew the eyes of America and the world to Georgia over the two months after Warnock and Ossoff forced runoffs against their opponents, summoning nearly $1 billion in campaign and outreach spending along with visits from dozens of celebrities and national politicians.
Both Democrats overcame attempts by Perdue and Loeffler to paint them as socialists too extreme for conservative Georgians through fierce attack ads that sought to tie Ossoff to communist China and portray Warnock as anti-police.
That campaign strategy failed, according to several local analysts who credited the two Democrats for focusing on more hopeful messages that elevated key issues like health care, criminal justice, workers’ rights and the ongoing COVID-19 response.
Perdue, a former corporate executive, and Loeffler, an Atlanta businesswoman, were also hamstrung by their loyalty to Trump as the outgoing president trashed Georgia’s election system following his election loss. Both Republicans conceded defeat earlier this month.
With Congress poised for Democratic majorities in both chambers, the Biden administration now faces an easier road to appointing Cabinet members and passing legislation until at least the 2022 mid-term elections. Biden has nonetheless pledged to take a moderate approach and work with leaders on both sides of the aisle.