I Had A Hammer is actually Hank Aaron’s second autobiography (the first being 1968’s Aaron, R.F.), but it covers with deeper understanding the story of how race has affected the home-run king’s life and career. As the last big star to emerge from the Negro Leagues, Aaron witnessed the decline of overt prejudice in the majors. Even so, he became a target for bigots in 1973 as he approached Babe Ruth’s career record of 714 home runs. ”Dear Nigger,” one letter to the slugger began, ”You can hit all dem home runs over dem short fences, but you can’t take dat black off yo face.” Nothing else in the book is as compelling as the issue of race, but coauthor Lonnie Wheeler does make Aaron seem like a real, if somewhat cranky, guy rather than a cereal-box hero. B+

I Had a Hammer
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