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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

In a year in which so many Hall of Famers have died, Hank Aaron's passing is incredibly painful news 

Milwaukee's Hank Aaron poses for a photo at

Milwaukee's Hank Aaron poses for a photo at Ebbets Field during an exhibition game in New York in 1954. Credit: AP

Oh, no.

Not again.

Not now.

Not him.

That anguished refrain — or something very similar to it — was heard on Friday when news of the passing of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron made its way around an already grief-stricken baseball world.

Aaron, baseball’s one-time home run king who died at the age of 86, is the 10th Hall of Famer to pass away since last April.

Man, 2021 doesn’t feel much different from 2020. Maybe it does in some respects — one big one springs to mind — but the pandemic rages on, heated divisions still plague our politics, and the fragility of our beloved baseball elders continues to remind us that the heroes of our collective youth will not be with us forever.

You’ve no doubt seen and heard writers and broadcasters refer to the men who get into the Hall of Fame as "baseball immortals."

It’s a title of respect for all that they’ve accomplished in their playing careers. It’s a reminder that these Hall of Famers will live on in our memories, in the record books and at the Hall of Fame museum in Cooperstown, New York.

We suspect it’s also a title reserved for men who accomplished more than just the numbers on the back of their very valuable baseball cards.

It’s for men who made a mark in their communities, in their cities and in the country at large.

Aaron was one such man. Stories of his courage in the face of a racist campaign of death threats and hate mail when he was on the verge of breaking Babe Ruth’s career home run record in 1974 have been repeated since Friday. They are as relevant to the discussion today as they were back then.

The first Hall of Famer to pass away in 2020 was Al Kaline, who died on April 6 at the age of 85. He was called "Mr. Tiger," and he was an icon in Detroit and a fixture at the Tigers’ spring training camp in Lakeland, Florida, well into his golden years.

There was never a brighter smile or a heartier handshake from a Hall of Famer. Kaline was always delighted to chat with whoever spotted him walking around the Tigers' complex in full uniform.

On Aug. 31, Tom Seaver, "The Franchise," passed away at the age of 75. For an entire generation of Mets fans, it was a gut punch that doesn’t have to be relived here. You know how it felt. You know what he meant to that organization and the fans who love it.

On Sept. 6, St. Louis lost Cardinals great Lou Brock at the age of 81. Less than a month later, on Oct. 2, another Cardinals great, Bob Gibson, died at the age of 84.

Six days later, Whitey Ford — "The Chairman of the Board" — passed away at the age of 91. A generation of Yankees fans mourned the classy lefty who was so unassuming that he once — when he learned that newspapers as a standard practice pre-write obituaries for famous people years before they die — asked former Newsday baseball writer Marty Noble if he had written his yet.

When Noble — who passed away in 2019 — said he had, Ford replied, "Did they publish it yet?"

Three days after Ford, Joe Morgan died at the age of 77. The arm-flapping second baseman for the 1970s "Big Red Machine" and later a longtime national baseball broadcaster, Morgan was a vice chairman for the Hall of Fame. He was an outspoken voice against the Hall letting in known steroid users.

"We hope the day never comes when known steroid users are voted into the Hall of Fame," Morgan wrote in an open letter to Hall voters in 2017. "They cheated. Steroid users don’t belong here."

Whether you agree with him or not, no known steroid users have been voted into the Hall. All-time greats Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are expected to fall short for the ninth consecutive year in voting that will be announced on Tuesday.

Even the day after Christmas, 2020 was not done yet. Knuckleballer Phil Niekro died at the age of 81. He became the seventh Hall of Famer to pass away in a single year, which is the most ever, according to the Hall of Fame. That's one record we hope will never be broken, or equaled.

So far in 2021, the baseball world has lost Tommy Lasorda, the colorful former Dodgers manager who passed away on Jan. 7 at the age of 93, and Lasorda’s former ace, Don Sutton, the curly-haired righthander and 324-game winner who died on Monday at the age of 75.

Then came Friday and the news of Hank Aaron.

It’s too much.

Too many.

Too young, every single one of them.

Too heartbroken, every single one of us.

New York Sports