An attorney for Hank Aaron’s family said the late baseball icon’s childhood home should be relocated to “an appropriate place” in Mobile where it can continue to be enjoyed as a museum.
Allan Tanenbaum, an Atlanta-based attorney who has long represented the baseball legend and Mobile native’s family, said on Thursday that while the fate of the childhood home is “up to the city,” it’s “our hope it is placed somewhere it can be visited and enjoyed by the citizens of Mobile.”
“And where the most appropriate place would be, would be acceptable to the family,” Tanenbaum said. “The point of a museum is to be visited. So, you want to put it somewhere visitors can enjoy it and appreciate Mr. Aaron’s legacy.”
The city has not said where the home will be relocated. On Wednesday, city officials said a committee has been formed to determine where the home should be moved after the city announced its lease on Hank Aaron Stadium is null and void, leaving the fate of the 26-year-old vacant ballpark in limbo.
“They are working with other people and those close with the family and baseball folks on where is the best place for it,” said city spokesman Jason Johnson.
Some of the artifacts inside the Aaron home-turned museum have since been returned to Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY The Baseball Hall of Fame had the items removed after the BayBears ended their tenure in Mobile.
Tanenbaum said he believes the Hall of Fame would assist in refurbishing the home once it’s relocated and repurposed as a museum.
“I have no reason to believe they won’t continue to be willing to loan items donated to Cooperstown and, when appropriate, to loan them to the museum when it reopens,” he said.
The home-turned-museum was a trove of artifacts from the Aaron family and the Baseball Hall of Fame. Key moments during Aaron’s illustrious baseball career were on display, dating back to the days in which he played semi-professional baseball in Mobile and during a brief stint with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League.
While the museum was open, the voice of broadcast legend Milo Hamilton echoed throughout it with the call of Aaron’s 715th home run to break Babe Ruth’s record. Aaron, himself, was interviewed during an introductory video in which he talks about the challenges of growing up in segregated Mobile during the 1940s and 50s.
Moving the house to a new location wouldn’t be the first time.
The home was relocated in 2008 from the city’s Toulminville neighborhood to outside the front entrance of the minor league stadium that abuts Interstate 65.
Two years later, it opened as a museum and became part of a gameday experience for stadium visitors whenever the Mobile BayBears played its home games. The BayBears left Mobile after the 2019 season.
Councilman Cory Penn, who represents the Toulminville area, said he wants to lean on guidance from the Aaron family on where the house should go.
“I think from my perspective, I really want to honor their wishes,” Penn said.
Councilman Ben Reynolds, who represents the area where the stadium is located, said he’s leaning on the committee to decide on an appropriate site.
Reynolds said he would like to see a representative with the Mobile Sports & Entertainment Group as a participant on the committee. MSEG, for the past two years, had a sublease to operate Hank Aaron Stadium after BallCorps LLC relocated the BayBears to Madison and rebranded the ballclub as the Trash Pandas. The sublease expired on Thursday, and MSEG has since left the stadium.
“I think they deserve a seat at the table for deciding its final location and be a part of the committee,” said Reynolds. MSEG, as the operators of Hank Aaron Stadium, was charged with maintaining the Aaron home for the past two years.
“They want what is best for the family home and they want to preserve the Henry Aaron legacy and want what is best for Mobile,” Reynolds said. “They are the ideal partner to bring along.”
A spokesperson with Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s office confirmed on Friday that said John Hilliard, vice-president of sales and marketing with MSEG is a member of the committee. The group also includes two representatives from Stimpson’s administration – Matt Anderson, director of civic and cultural affairs, and Terrance Smith, director of the mayor’s innovation team – as well as Walter Calhoun with Visit Mobile. New York Mets Hall of Famer and Mobile resident Cleon Jones is also part of the committee.
“I think they are trying to move quickly in finding a suitable location,” said Jason Johnson, spokesman for Stimpson.
Four years ago, city officials told AL.com that the home needed to be relocated to a “prominent” location and serve as an anchor to a city project in highlighting its unique baseball heritage.
Mobile, on a per capita basis, has by far the most native residents in Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Only New York City and Los Angeles can claim more native-born sons in the Hall of Fame than Mobile.
Related: VSolumnist George Will: Mobile is a giant in baseball history
Last month, the city unveiled its plan for a Hall of Fame Courtyard outside Cooper Riverside Park and the Arthur R. Outlaw Mobile Convention Center along Water Street. The courtyard, as proposed, will feature five large statues of the Hall of Famers:
- Aaron, who played primarily for the Braves organization from 1954-1976, and who was inducted in 1982.
- Willie McCovey, who played primarily for the Giants from 1959-1980 and was inducted in 1986.
- Satchel Paige, who played in the Negro Leagues and in Major League Baseball from 1962-1965 and was inducted in 1971.
- Billy Williams, who played primarily for the Cubs from 1956-1976, and was inducted in 1987.
- Ozzie Smith, who played primarily with the Cardinals from 1978-1996, and was inducted in 2002.
Also displayed will be a statue of Robert Brazile Jr., who is the city’s only homegrown member of the National Football League Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. An empty pedestal will also be featured where visitors can climb on and take selfies with the Hall of Fame statutes.
But that location is not under consideration as the new site for a relocated home-turned-museum, Johnson confirmed.
Water Street and Cooper Riverside Park is adjacent to the Mobile River and often floods during tropical weather.
“That wouldn’t be possible for a number of reasons,” he said. “I don’t want to speculate on where (the house) might go. They’ve narrowed it down to a few options and (along Water Street) is not one of them.”
The city does have some museums nearby include the History Museum of Mobile. Former Councilman Fred Richardson, in 2018, suggested the home be incorporated somehow into the museum where there is “plenty of foot traffic and history-seekers.”
Another option could be relocating back to the Toulminville neighborhood where there is Henry “Hank” Aaron Park, formerly Carver Park. The park features an Aaron monument that is surrounded by engraved stones listing 14 professional baseball players from Mobile. But the park is little-known and lacks the foot traffic as downtown Mobile.
“We want to make sure it’s protected,” Johnson said. “We want to make sure people can get to it. It’s important to community members and is a draw for fans of Hank Aaron.”
Childhood homes of former baseball legends have been converted into museum experiences elsewhere. Those that are considered the biggest successes are located near a baseball stadium.
During a 2018 interview with AL.com, a representative with the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, said the Aaron home ought not to be taken far from a baseball setting.
In Baltimore, the birthplace for Babe Ruth has long been a museum and is located a few blocks from Oriole Park at Camden Yards, home to Major League Baseball’s Baltimore Orioles. Museum attendance has risen since Camden Yards opened in 1992.
Other baseball icons have museums in their native towns. A museum dedicated to “Shoeless” Joe Jackson is located inside the brick home where he lived and died in Greenville, South Carolina. That home, like the Aaron home, was uprooted from its original foundation and moved to a location next to a minor league baseball stadium.
Ty Cobb, the “Georgia Peach,” is remembered with a small museum in Royston, Georgia, which has drawn over 54,000 visitors in 20 years.