In death, Hank Aaron has been treated with respect, admiration, even reverence.
Yet in life, the Black man who broke Babe Ruth’s home run record was hounded by racist attacks, including death threats.
He heard them again nearly 4 decades later, when he defended Lebron James and President Obama.
Carla Koplin Cohn knows exactly what was in those letters thousands of letters.
She lives in Florida now, after more than 25 years in Westport. But in the early 1970s she was a young secretary, working in the basement of Atlanta Stadium. Aaron asked for help with his correspondence. She became his full-time secretary — a first for any baseball player.
The next year, she handled his 900,000 pieces of mail. She sent a form letter for fans. Aaron kept the hate mail in his attic — after Carla reported the threats to the FBI.
Those letters were nasty. Some included KKK hoods.
Carla got some herself. “They knew I was white, Jewish, and working for a Black man,” she told Slate.
She remained Aaron’s personal assistant for the next 10 years. Cohn sat in the stands and taught Aaron’s second wife Billye all about baseball.
After he retired, they stayed close. Aaron was a guest at her wedding.
He was a frequent guest too at the Cohns’ Punch Bowl Drive home, including her 40th birthday party. Carla ran the annual Bargain Fest; one year, the star helped raise funds by signing baseballs and books.
Carla, her husband Al and daughter Jenn visited the Aarons every Christmas, in West Palm Beach.
Carla and Aaron last spoke a few days before his death. He’d just gotten his COVID shot, and hoped to see her soon.
Though he was 86, his death came as a surprise. Cohn’s daughter Jenn Falik — who graduated from Staples High School in 1997, is an on-air trend reporter for “The Today Show” and “Rachael Ray,” writes the “Ultimate Edit” newsletter and moved back to Westport in 2012 — is gaining a new appreciation for the achievements and life of the man she calls “just he nicest, warmest, humblest and low-key person.”
Her children — in 4th grade and kindergarten — are learning too. “They recognize all these celebrities saying great things about him,” she notes. “To them, he’s just Uncle Henry.”
Aaron was Uncle Henry to Jenn too.
Which leads to a story the Hall of Famer told at her wedding.
In his toast, Aaron said that when Jenn was a Coleytown Elementary School 1st grader, students had to write biographies on either Helen Keller or Hank Aaron. All the girls chose Keller — except Jenn.
Surprised, the teacher asked why. “He’s my uncle,” she replied.
Worried that Jenn had a problem, the teacher and guidance counselor called her parents for a conference. They explained that yes, Jenn really did call Hank Aaron “Uncle Henry.”
Because to her, he was.
(Click here for a great Slate story: “The Woman Who Read Hank Aaron’s Hate Mail.” Click here for an in-depth New York Times story on him.)
Great pick-up, Dan. I’m always gob-smacked by how you manage to find a Westport connection to so many major stories of the day. Is your memory so massive or do little birdies tell you? Either way, it’s great. Keep on, keeping on…
A good man who endured so much with his characteristic calm, humility and grace. He left an indelible mark on the game- such a fine ambassador. Thx for the great story Dan! Best, Steve
Nice one, Dan.
I know people always wondered whether the Beatles ever came to Westport—well, this has to be pretty much the sports or baseball equivalent of that. And I say that as a diehard Willie Mays fan growing up. But I always had only respect for Aaron, who was pure class on and off the field—and this is one more great example of that. What a wonderful story.
Coincidentally, I had read just yesterday a fascinating Facebook post about a letter Aaron wrote to a man on Long Island in response to a letter of support the man had written during the very difficult times Hank faced in his pursuit of Ruth. And, sure enough, the initials HA/ck are at the bottom of that typed letter. (I reached out to that individual, who is a friend of The Remains’ Vern Miller, to see if he could upload that letter here.)
Thanks for sharing.
As a kid, my father lived in the Bronx and he got to see “The Babe” play. Of course he was a lifelong Yankees fan. I wasn’t much of a fan, but I felt a little sentimental when Hank Aaron was threatening Ruth’s record. But Aaron was such a talented player and he had a reputation as a nice guy. If the record had to be broken, he was a good choice and his race made it even better.
Love this! Fabulous story and very interesting!
Love this story. What a lucky family to have such close ties to a beautiful man and legend.Thank you.
Dan Woog! You continue to impress. Thanks for this great story.
If you dig far enough it seems like almost everyone of importance came through Westport. A great story.Aaron probably took as much racial abuse as Jackie Robinson and maybe more in terms of the hate mail. Great memories listening to the 57 and 58 World Series on the radio and our black and white television. The two legends Aaron and Mantle going against each other.Braves won in 57 and the Yankees in 58.So many hall of fame legends passed away this year
Years ago I received a call from Hank Aaron. He was referred to me for help with a financial transaction. I was more than happy to help him. What came across most was how humble and kind and appreciative he was. He was so thankful for the time I gave him.
I told him a story of when I was a teenager my sisters would always kid me the only book I ever read was the Hank Aaron story. This was a paperback book I had and probably used for more than one book report.
A week later I received in the the mail his most recent book at the time “ I had a Hammer”. He signed the book with best wishes and also sent me an autograph baseball.
None of us will ever understand what he had to overcome and through it all was a humble and true gentleman.
I’m grateful for the brief encounter I had with Hank Aaron.
Another great story by Dan Woog. If you notice the video when he hit # 715, as he rounded second base, two young people ran up to him and congratulated Hank Aaron while running beside him. First of all, with security the way it is today, that could never happen nowadays. One wonders who those two are. It’s good that they were friendly and non violent. Great story though!
You’re right, Jack. I read somewhere that there was a security guard assigned to Hank Aaron. He was sitting in the stands that day, and had the same thought when then the two fans ran on the field.
So many have already said so much so well, so I’ll merely say this is my favorite among all the stories I’ve read on 06880. And it’s certainly #1 among all the Aaron articles I’ve read this weekend. Be proud, Dan. As the Incredible String Band would say, you get brighter every day.
Reading this absolutely made my Sunday. A baseball he signed for me at the 1999 All Star Game in Boston, when he was named part of the All Century team, remains one of my most treasured possessions, including my children! He was pure class, and his humility and grace will be sorely missed. My condolences to the Cohns and Faliks <3
I love this story! Of course, growing up in the 50’s, I remember Hank Aaron but never heard about Carla and the connection to Westport. Great piece, Dan!
This was a great way to end the weekend. Absolutely amazing story.
I’m concerned that his death came as a surprise. What did he die of? Was it related to the COVID vaccination just a few days before?
We all know hate exists, it’s on the news every day, but seldom seen in such a granular way as that letter from the KKK Aaron received. I am thunderstruck by how despicable that letter is and the venom and evil it conveys. What a remarkable human being he was to withstand such assault, regularly, and still perform with such skill, might and grace.
And yeah, the rest of it is a cool Westport story too.