When Astros manager Dusty Baker talks baseball, he often delves back into his 50-plus year history around the game and tells stories about players from the past.
He speaks of no one with more reverence than he does when he tells a Hank Aaron story.
Aaron, one of the greatest players in the history of the game, passed away at the age of 86 on Friday.
"Hank Aaron was the most important influence on my life, next to my Dad," Baker said in a statement released by the Astros. "He was the best person that I ever knew, and the truest, most honest person that I ever knew. He taught me how to be a man and how to be a proud African-American. He taught me how important it was to give back to the community, and he inspired me to become an entrepreneur. Hank impacted my life, my family and my world, both on and off the field. He was a great man."
Baker often tells the story about how Aaron took Baker under his wing when Baker made his major league debut with the Braves at just 19 years old. Aaron, who was 34 years old at the time, promised Baker's mother that he would look after her son and make sure he stayed on the straight and narrow.
Baker and Aaron were teammates with the Braves for seven seasons. Baker was in the on-deck circle when Aaron hit career home run No. 715 to break Babe Ruth's record.
It's been a rough 10 months for baseball's best players with seven Hall of Famers — Joe Morgan, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Whitey Ford, Al Kaline and Phil Niekro — all passing away in that time, not to mention Astros greats from that era Bob Watson and Jimmy Wynn also dying.
When Seaver passed in September, Baker told another Aaron story.
"I respected (Seaver) as a man and as a player," Baker said. "I saw the respect that Hank Aaron had for him, and the success I had against him was because Hank Aaron gave me a daily scouting report and a game plan ... to swing at the ball below the waist."