Nearly 35 years after his last game in Major League Baseball, Hank Aaron is going to bat. But instead of swinging for the fences, Aaron is spreading the awareness about “Get Back In The Game,” a program that encourages millions of people suffering with knee pain to talk to their doctors about treatment options.
The former home run king spoke to TheGrio leading up to the 2010 MLB All-Star Game this week to discuss Atlanta Braves rookie Jason Heyward and his reaction to the LeBron James ESPN special The Decision.
theGrio: Did your knee pain come from running the bases 755 times?
Hank Aaron: [Laughs] I’m sure that’s where it came from. Just taking a pounding for 23 years. That’s probably where all of it came from.
Tell me about “Get Back In The Game” and why this program is important to you?
Over 10 million Americans live with this arthritis are beginning to sit home and not do anything. I think if they take the shot I take and the method I take in Synvisc-One, it would give them the opportunity to get back in the game.
To do some of the things they are capable of doing like walking, all the exercise they want to do, doing things with their grandchildren and children. It’s important they get back in the game and that’s why it’s important I get this message out to them.
Is this a discussion you’ve had with some of your former teammates and when did your knees start to bother you?
I have talked to several people that I have had conferences with. I was very lucky as the doctor often stated that I was taking a pounding for 23 years and didn’t have any problems. Low and behold I got out of the game and it slowly stated to disintegrate. My knees were getting worse. A little pain here, a little pain there. Little did I know that eventually it was bone on bone.
I went to the doctor and my physician decided he was going to give me a shot. I got shots that lasted for two weeks. I said something has got to give. The last physician I went to, he decided he was going to try Synvisc-One. Sure enough, I take this Synvisc-One and it lasts six to seven months.
How do your knees feel currently?
They feel great. I’m able to do some of the things I want to do. That’s why it’s important that we all try to get back in the game and do some of the things we are capable of doing.
Why is Atlanta the perfect city to host the MLB Civil Rights Game?
Why is it? Because of what Atlanta stands for. You got Dr. King’s hometown, you have all of the AU Centers here. I think this is a great city and not to take away from any other city, but I think this city here deserves it as much as anybody.
Atlanta Braves rookie Jason Heyward has been compared to you. What was your reaction when you first saw him play and when he finished third in the All-Star voting for the National League outfielders?
Well, he’s a fantastic athlete. He’s done well. I think most people feel like if he wasn’t hurt, he would be in the thick of everything like batting average, home runs, runs batted in, etc. I think his career is going to be one that all of us, not just here in Atlanta but all over the sports world, will be very proud of.
Do you guys have a relationship?
I have spoken to him but not about baseball, but about other things. I can’t divulge that. It certainly didn’t have anything to do with baseball because his approach is a lot different than mine.
Torii Hunter had some comments earlier in the season regarding the lack of African Americans in MLB. Do you feel the sport is headed in the right direction in terms of attracting young black players?
I hope so. We still have a ways to go. I think it’s just a matter of time before we get all these things settled. Disappointment? Yes, I’m somewhat disappointed in the lack of African-Americans. I think having Jason Heyward is going to prove that given the opportunity, we can do the job as well as anyone else.
What one current or past MLB player could demand an hour-long TV special like LeBron James?
I don’t know if anybody. I don’t think LeBron needed that. I don’t think no sports figured need that. We have other things to worry about besides sports figures clogging up the system for an hour and a half.
Alex Rodriguez is three home runs shy of 600 at the age of 34. Would you have a problem with him possibly passing your mark of 755 one day?
None whatsoever. As I have said before, I’m not going to hit another home run and records are made to be broken. Whatever they can accomplish, that makes me feel proud.