The first time I shook Hank Aaron’s hand, he had been retired from baseball for more than 10 years. I remember thinking that this hand had been on the bat for every one of his record 755 home runs. His grip was powerful, his hand meaty and large, yet his manner was reserved and his smile genuine. I would come to appreciate these traits in the years ahead.
That handshake occurred 27 years ago in New York City, across the street from the offices of Major League Baseball. It was to be the beginning of a lifelong friendship, and it was the only contract I ever had, or needed, with Henry Aaron.
At the time, I was the head of marketing for Arby’s and was in search of a big idea to raise the profile of the somewhat obscure restaurant chain. My plan was to head across the street and visit with Peter Ueberroth, the newly anointed baseball commissioner, who was determined to do for baseball what he had done as the organizer of the privately financed 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles: make money. But first, I wanted to meet with Hank and get him to agree to support my marketing idea, with no more than my word to rely on. I needed him to trust that I would live up to my promises.
An hour later, I was standing in front of the commissioner, offering the idea of having Arby’s become the official fast food of Major League Baseball. Why? Because, as I stated, baseball had been using our name forever, with no recompense.
Fully expecting a puzzled look from the merchandising team around the table, I continued to make my point.
“OK, let’s say there is a runner on second base and the batter gets a hit and the runner scores, the batter gets an…?”
Everyone answered in unison: “An RBI.”
“Precisely,” I said, “an ARBY – I.”
I won’t lie, the whole room groaned.
Article by Frank Belatti: that was so neat! Reminds me of an article I read couple years ago by a guy who, when he was a kid pestered Roger Maris to throw him a ball; finally after a couple of years Maris threw him a warm-up ball…..and from there they became friends…….to the extent that when Maris died, this kid….now of course a adult…was as I recollect the only non-related person to attend Maris's funeral.
Thank you for sharing part of your life journey and experiences with Hank Aaron with us. It is a very inspirational story and reminds me that the real richness in life comes from relationships and helping others accomplish their dreams.