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Hank Aaron
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Mariners announcer Dave Sims and The Groz share Hank Aaron memories

The late Hank Aaron held baseball's all-time home run record for 33 years. (AP)

News broke Friday that Hank Aaron, a towering figure in the world of baseball who held the record for home runs in a career for 33 years, died at the age of 86.

On KIRO Nights, host Mike Lewis turned to two of the most knowledgeable baseball minds in Seattle – Mariners play-by-play broadcaster Dave Sims and longtime Seattle sports radio host Dave “The Groz” Grosby – to talk about Aaron’s impact on the game. As luck would have it, both Sims and Groz were able to cross paths with “Hammerin’ Hank” in their careers.

For Sims, when he found out he was in the same building as Aaron, he did everything in his power to meet the man.

“I had one interaction with Mr. Aaron,” Sims said, noting that it was in the mid-1980s when he was hosting a sports show for WNBC Radio, which was in the same 30 Rockefeller building in New York as David Letterman’s talk show at the time. “I see on the closed circuit, in-house TV that Letterman’s show is coming on, Henry Aaron is one of the guests. I run upstairs about the sixth floor, I asked the attendant, ‘Hey, where’s Mr. Aaron going to come out when he finishes?’ He pointed to a door behind me, so I parked myself there. About 10, 15 minutes later he comes out, and I all but tackled Hank Aaron. I mean, can you imagine? ‘Mr. Aaron, I’m Dave Sims, I’m doing a sports talk show downstairs, we’re at WNBC Radio, going to be heard all around the country, I would love to just get five minutes with you.’ He gave me 25 minutes.”

The moment is one Sims will never forget.

“I got the tape buried in a box somewhere upstairs. I’ve got to dig it out sometime and digitize that bad boy,” he said. “I tried to cover A to Z and I didn’t have a ton of time to prepare for it, (but) I can still see him sitting to my left.”

For Groz, he arrived in Seattle just in time to get a gig interviewing Aaron during a book tour (read a full story from Groz about that meeting here).

“I was 29, 30 years old. Was definitely nervous, and he was a complete gentleman,” Groz said while mentioning that Aaron had been on a long tour answering questions on a nightly basis. “I was just struck by his dignity and by his grace.”

Aaron leaves behind a tremendous legacy as one of the best players baseball has ever seen.

“This may sound strange to say, but he was probably the most underrated player in baseball history because when he was doing his thing, there were flashier players like Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle,” Groz said, “and here was this guy who never hit 50 home runs in a season, this absolute picture of consistency, and he did everything. He led the league ultimately in almost every category during his career. In fact, one of his great years he stole 31 bases. He was second to Maury Wills in stolen bases, for crying out loud.”

“Willie Mays was more of an exciting player, he caught your eye with almost everything he did, but the beauty of ‘The Hammer,’ man, it was just consistent,” Sims said. “It was like the tortoise and the hare. … I think as we look back on his career, I’d be rooting for the Phillies or the Dodgers or whatever and ‘Hammer’ would come up and I’d go, ‘Oh jeez, here we go,’ because you knew something was going to happen.”

There was more to Aaron than his numbers on the field, though.

“Make no mistake, he was a significant, significant figure during the civil rights movement,” Groz said.

Sims has felt Aaron’s impact firsthand.

“That generation of Black ballplayers paved the way for me. There have been fewer than 10 Black Major League Baseball play-by-play announcers for a team in the history of the game, and I’m one of them,” Sims said. “I certainly stand on the shoulders of that generation of guys.”

You can listen to the full conversation with Sims and Groz at the beginning of the podcast at this link or in the player below.

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