Kenley Jansen I Had Blast W/ Braves ... But I'm Open To Dodgers Return

OPEN TO A RETURN
TMZSports.com

Kenley Jansen isn't ruling out the possibility of a reunion with the Dodgers despite having a great time in Atlanta this past season ... telling TMZ Sports if L.A. made him the right offer, he'd rejoin the storied franchise.

We spoke with Jansen out at LAX -- just a few weeks before he'll hit the open market in free agency -- and the star closer told us that although he still sees himself as a Brave at the moment, he will explore the best options for him and his family this offseason.

And, yes, that does mean a possibility of a re-signing with the Dodgers.

"Hey, we'll see," he said with a smile. "We'll see what's out there."

Jansen, who spent the first 12 years of his career with L.A., spoke highly of his first season as a Brave ... and it's easy to see why -- the team won 101 games, and he had an All-Star caliber year, logging 41 saves.

"I can tell you all great things about Atlanta," Jansen said. "Atlanta is awesome. The fans, the people, the organization. I had a great time there, and we had a great season."

But, Jansen told us he still lives in L.A. -- and it's clear the City of Angels still feels like home to him despite the past year in Georgia.

Free agency begins immediately after the World Series concludes in November. Fingers crossed, Dodgers fans!

Phillies Fans Chant 'DUI' At Braves' Ozuna ... During Playoff Game

Phillies fans lived up to their ruthless reputation on Friday ... chanting "DUI" at Braves star outfielder Marcell Ozuna during Philadelphia's playoff game against Atlanta.

It all went down in the first inning at Citizens Bank Park in Philly -- Ozuna was up for his first at-bat of the afternoon ... when the fans trolled him over his August arrest.

"DUI! DUI! DUI!" the Philly faithful chanted in unison as 31-year-old Ozuna swung at an 81 MPH slider from Phillies' right-hander Aaron Nola.

Ozuna -- a 10-year MLB veteran -- was arrested for DUI after police in Georgia pulled him over for speeding and failing to maintain his lane while on the road.

LOOK ME UP, OFFICER

Ozuna -- in his third season with the Braves -- told police on the scene that he was heading to a party at a nearby nightclub to celebrate his team's win over the Mets earlier.

Ozuna ultimately took responsibility for his actions ... telling the media that he was "disappointed" about the incident and expressing remorse to his teammates and family.

But despite the mea culpa, Philadephia fans seem adamant about jeering Ozuna at the plate ... as the Phillies and defending World Series champs, battle it out on the field.

Marcell Ozuna Arrest Video ... MLBer Told Cops He Was Celebrating Braves Win Before Stop

LOOK ME UP, OFFICER
UPDATE

2:07 PM PT -- New police video shows Ozuna told a cop he had celebrated the Braves' big win over the Mets on Thursday night with a few beers before he was ultimately arrested for DUI on Friday morning.

UPDATE

In the footage, you can clearly hear Ozuna tell an officer, "We win today and we just kind of celebrated." He did add, though, that he thought he was completely fine to drive.

UPDATE

"I'm good, my man," he said.

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Multiple times during the stop, according to the video, Ozuna referenced his status as a Braves player -- even saying at one point, "I'm just famous."

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The footage also shows Ozuna -- who had roughly $8,000 worth of cash in his right front pocket -- needed to pee so badly following his arrest, officers let him out his cuffs so he could relieve himself on a bush.

UPDATE

1:32 PM PT -- Ozuna just addressed the arrest with reporters a few hours before the Braves' Friday night game ... and he said he was "disappointed" about it all.

UPDATE
UPDATE

"I disappointed my team, disappointed my family," he said. "And I don't have anything to say more, and it's a legal matter."

Marcell Ozuna pulled the celeb card during his DUI arrest on Friday morning -- telling a cop during the stop, "Sorry, I'm Ozuna from the Braves" ... this according to a new police report obtained by TMZ Sports.

In the docs, a Norcross Police Dept. officer said he pulled over Ozuna -- who was driving in a black 2021 Mercedes-Benz -- at around 3:35 AM after he says the MLB slugger was speeding in a 35 MPH zone while failing to stay in a lane.

Moments after being stopped, Ozuna allegedly told the officer, "Sorry, sorry, I'm Ozuna from the Braves." The baseball player's car reeked of booze, the police officer said in the report. The officer also claimed Ozuna had red and watery eyes.

Ozuna told the cop, according to the docs, that he was in Norcross heading to "the party." The officer said that he later learned the 31-year-old was on his way to "a nearby after-hours nightclub."

When Ozuna went to hand his driver's license to the cop, the officer said in the docs he also handed over an MLB ID card showing that he played for the Braves.

According to the report, just before administering field sobriety tests on Ozuna, the outfielder admitted he had drank "like three or four" beers before getting behind the wheel.

"If I'm drunk, if I can't drive, I do like this," the officer said in the docs, claiming Ozuna -- who allegedly had $8,000 in cash in his pocket -- "motioned for me to take his car key."

After administering three tests, the officer arrested Ozuna. But, according to the cop, Ozuna refused both a breath test and a blood test.

Records show he was eventually booked on charges of DUI and failure to maintain lane.

Hours before the arrest, the Braves had won a huge game over the Mets in Atlanta -- but Ozuna did not play in the contest.

This is the second time Ozuna has been arrested in the last 15 months -- he was previously taken into custody in May 2021 after he was accused of roughing up his wife in an incident in Sandy Springs, GA.

Ozuna -- who agreed to enter into a pretrial diversion program to close out the case a few months after the incident -- was suspended 20 games by the MLB over it all.

He later said before this season began that he apologized to his teammates, adding, "I made a mistake."

Ozuna has played in 107 games for the Braves this season ... batting .214 with 20 home runs.

Originally Published -- 7:36 AM PT

Ronald Acuna Jr. Cops 'La Bestia' Chain For ASG ... Worth $140k!!!

Ronald Acuna Jr. will be the brightest All-Star during this week's festivities in L.A. ... thanks to his new $140k diamond chain!!

TMZ Sports is told Acuna -- a starting outfielder for Tuesday's All-Star Game after receiving the most votes among National League players -- copped a blinged-out nod to his aggressive style of play ... and it's incredible!!

The piece features Acuna's nickname, "La Bestia" -- which means "the beast" -- decked out in 12 carats of emerald-shaped VVS diamonds and 6 carats of round brilliant rocks ... and a gorilla enameled on top.

ALL STAR ANCHOR

Gabriel The Jeweler tells us the chain is also made of 80 carats of VVS baguettes ... with the whole thing being worth a whopping $140k!!

We're told Acuna has plans to show off the bling when he takes the field at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday ... so keep your eyes peeled.

Acuna and superstar Vladimir Guerrero Jr. also got iced-out versions of their personal logos ahead of ASW ... which was a collaboration with Nick Drbal's Xample brand.

We're told Drbal -- both players' business manager -- designed the logos that inspired the shopping spree.

To top things off, the Xample team also walked away with a number of logo chains as well.

It's raining diamonds!!

Dodgers' Freddie Freeman Sobs At Podium ... In Return To Atlanta

UPDATE

4:18 PM PT -- It's been a couple hours since Freeman's press conference, but he's still very emotional ... he just burst out into tears while accepting his World Series ring on the field at Truist Park.

UPDATE

Dodgers superstar Freddie Freeman was so overcome with emotion in his first time back in Atlanta since he left the city this offseason, he sobbed at the podium in front of a throng of reporters.

The first baseman -- who spent his entire career in ATL and helped the Braves win a World Series last season before leaving in free agency -- was a wreck on Friday afternoon while trying to talk about what his time in Atlanta meant to him.

As media members peppered him with questions before the Dodgers took on his former Braves team at Truist Park ... he needed a huge towel to wipe away snot and tears.

In fact, Freddie was so overwhelmed by the moment, he initially had to walk out of the press conference to gather himself before beginning.

"It's hard to put into words," he said. "Just happy to be back."

Freeman -- who played in Atlanta for 12 years -- is considered one of the greatest Braves of all time ... but following failed contract talks this past offseason, he bolted for Los Angeles, signing a six-year, $162-million deal with the Dodgers.

Freddie's been a star for his new squad -- already piling up 8 home runs with a .303 batting average ... but it's clear, at least part of his heart and soul still remains in Georgia.

Originally Published -- 2:24 PM PT

MLB Star Ronald Acuna Jr. Cops $175k Custom BMW X6 M ... Decked Out W/ Logo

Braves fans will be able to spot their star outfielder whenever he's rolling around ATL -- Ronald Acuna Jr. just copped a brand new luxury whip for $175k ... with his very own logo etched all over it!!

TMZ Sports has learned ... the 2-time All-Star is the proud new owner of a BMW X6 M Competition with a bright yellow paint job.

If you look closely, the car has a personal touch -- featuring Acuna's name and custom logo all over the exterior, which was his business partner Nick Drbal's idea alongside Xample.

"Ronald and I wanted to brand his logo in a unique and personal way," Drbal tells us. "The best way we envisioned this was for his own city to be able to identify who was inside, based on what was outside on the car."

We're told Acuna will only have the whip in ATL for a short time before it gets shipped back to his home country of Venezuela.

The RA13 logo is also featured on the inside ... with the emblem getting put on the headrests for a special touch.

The Beamer X6 M Competition usually comes with a starting price tag of around $130k ... but we're told with all the bells and whistles and the custom job, it ended up being around a $175k purchase.

The slugger definitely seems pleased with the end result -- posing next to the car for a quick photo.

Awesome whip -- but don't forget to pay the meter when you're out and about, though, Ronald ... you don't want everyone to know if you get a parking ticket!!

Brewers Vs. Braves Fan Runs Wild On Field ... Jukes Security Guards

HIGH STAKES HIGH FIVE
Twitter / @Panarinbread72

A tight MLB game on Wednesday got a whole lot more interesting in the later innings ... when a fan ran onto the field, and, for a while, evaded security guards like an NFL running back.

The moment just happened in the Braves vs. Brewers game in Milwaukee.

Video shot by spectators inside the stadium shows a fan made it down to the field, and then began dancing in center field.

The guy shook his booty for quite a while before security eventually realized he was there -- and then, he evaded the guards who were trying to take him down for several seconds.

The man then sprinted from the outfield to the mound, before eventually making it to home plate ... all while juking stadium officials in the process.

Toward the end of his jaunt, the guy tried to get a high-five from a Milwaukee batter, but after the Brewer left the man hanging, security finally corralled the fan and got him off the diamond.

No word if the guy was ultimately arrested ... but he's missing a helluva game -- the Braves and Brewers are currently in extra innings fighting for a win!

Freddie Freeman MVP Says Goodbye To Atlanta ... With Emotional Letter

Freddie Freeman's time in Atlanta is over ... the 2020 NL MVP just officially waved goodbye to the Braves with an emotional farewell letter.

Freeman wrote the note and posted it to his social media page on Wednesday ... confirming talks about a new deal with ATL have broken off.

"It has been a blast to have you cheer for me and I hope I was able to bring smiles to a lot of your homes over the years," Freeman said. "I gave everything I had day in and day out and I hope you guys saw that as well."

Waiting for your permission to load the Instagram Media.

Freeman had been negotiating with the Braves for a while -- but after Atlanta traded for former A's first baseman Matt Olson this week, and then proceeded to give him a huge contract extension, it's clear both sides are now headed in different directions.

Freeman played 12 years for the Braves after being drafted by the team in 2007 -- and in 2020, he won an MVP award, and then in 2021, he won a World Series.

"It was truly an honor," Freeman said. "We went through the very highs together and some lows but those lows is what made last year so special."

"You watched me grow up from a baby faced kid to marrying my love @chelseafreeman5 and seeing us bring 3 beautiful boys into this world. I’m so glad my family got to be apart of yours!"

Freeman added, "I look forward to seeing and playing in front of you all again. When that time comes, I hope you remember all the wonderful memories we made together. I love you Braves Country! Champions Forever!"

Freeman is reportedly eyeing a few teams -- including the Los Angeles Dodgers -- for his next destination.

MLB Star Marcell Ozuna Grabbed Wife By Neck Before Arrest ... Police Video Shows

CAUGHT IN THE ACT

Atlanta Braves star Marcell Ozuna had his hand aggressively wrapped around his wife's neck just minutes before his arrest last May ... new police video, obtained by TMZ Sports, shows.

The incident all went down on May 29 in Sandy Springs, GA., after cops say they were called to a residence regarding "an assault in progress."

In an officer's bodycam footage from the scene, you can see as the cop arrived at the home, Ozuna grabbed his wife around her throat with his right hand.

"Get your hands off her!" the officer can be heard telling the 6-foot-1, 225-pound MLB player in the footage. "Get on the ground! Get on the ground!"

Ozuna -- who was wearing a hard cast on his left hand due to an injury he had suffered in a game just days before the incident -- complied, and was eventually arrested.

In police documents, cops say Ozuna's wife told them the altercation had all begun over cheating claims.

Ozuna was initially hit with felony charges over the incident, including aggravated assault by strangulation. But, the counts were eventually reduced to misdemeanor family violence charges -- and Ozuna agreed to enter into a pretrial diversion program to close out the case.

Ozuna was ordered to, among other things, complete at least 200 hours of community service as well as take an anger management course. He was also placed on six months of supervision.

The outfielder was ultimately suspended by the MLB over it all this week, getting hit with a 20-game ban -- although because the punishment was retroactive in nature, Ozuna is now eligible to return as soon as the 2022 season begins.

"Any instance of domestic violence is unacceptable, and we fully support the decision by the commissioner's office regarding Marcell," the Braves said after the MLB announced the suspension.

"We are encouraged to know that Marcell has accepted full responsibility for his actions and is taking the necessary measures to learn and grow from the situation."

We've reached out to both the MLB and the Braves following the release of the police video, but so far, no word back yet.

Ozuna -- who missed the Braves' World Series run this year while dealing with the hand injury as well as the criminal investigation -- signed a four-year, $65 million contract with Atlanta this past February.

Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr. Meets Young Fans At ATL Hospital Donates 113k Face Masks!!!

SHARING IS CARING

Atlanta Braves star Ronald Acuna Jr. made a champion-esque move this week ... by visiting and donating 113,000 face masks to an Atlanta children's hospital the day after winning the World Series!!

The awesome visit happened on Thursday -- right after Acuna's Braves took home the Commissioner's Trophy and beat the Houston Astros in Game 6 of the 2021 Fall Classic.

Waiting for your permission to load the Instagram Media.

The outfielder popped up at the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta -- surprising fans including 11-year-old Nolan Madsen, who's a patient at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.

It turns out Nolan's hero is Acuna -- and he was in total shock when he came face to face with the superstar, who later handed him a signed #13 jersey and posed for pics with him!!

That wasn't the only thing Acuna gave away during his stop ... he also donated 113,000 masks to the hospital as a thank you for their hard work and dedication during the COVID pandemic.

"This day is for the kids," Acuna says. "I get to smile, and feel happy that I’m a World Series champion. They helped me get that. It’s only right if I can give that smile back."

The hospital thanked the 23-year-old via IG for the great gesture .. saying, "Thank you Acuna for making this incredible week even better for our kids! ⚾"

#ChampMoves

Braves Players Hilariously Pelted With Beers ... At World Series Parade

CATCHIN' CANS
Courtesy of MLB

The Atlanta Braves partied like its '95 on Friday ... with players getting bombarded with beers getting thrown at 'em by fans at the World Series parade -- and it's hilarious!!

TONS of fans were out and about in the streets of Atlanta to watch the champs soak in the rewards of their hard work.

The Braves -- who haven't won the Fall Classic since 1995 -- capped off a Cinderella postseason run by defeating the Brewers, Dodgers, and the pesky Astros.

CELEBRATION CHUG

As the parade made its way through ATL, the players made sure to show their appreciation for the fans in attendance ... and well, the fans returned their favor.

In the video, you can see a fan in the crowd tossing a beer to Austin Riley -- a third baseman for the squad -- and he's able to snag the brew from the air!!

WHAT A CATCH!!!
Twitter/@JaredHoopkins

Dansby Swanson was also able to snag a beer Stone Cold Steve Austin-style ... and we gotta admit, the throw was just as impressive as the Gold Glove-worthy catch.

Soak it all in, champs ... and be sure to drink some water!!

Braves' Charlie Morton Breaks Leg During World Series ... But Still Pitches!!!

Atlanta Braves pitcher Charlie Morton etched his name into MLB lore Tuesday night ... 'cause he broke his leg during Game 1 of the World Series -- but still pitched on it!!

Morton took a comebacker off his shin in the 2nd inning of ATL's tilt with the Astros in Houston ... and right away, it was clear something was off with the Braves' ace.

Morton hobbled a bit back to the mound with a pained expression on his face -- but he still managed to get the next two outs to end the inning.

And, despite sitting in the dugout in pain while his team batted in the top of the 3rd inning, Morton still came out to pitch in the bottom of the inning!

The 37-year-old actually struck out Jose Altuve -- but was in so much pain, he was helped off the mound by trainers.

Atlanta officials later revealed Morton's X-rays showed he had broken his right fibula ... and they immediately ruled him out for the rest of the series with the 'Stros.

The Herculean effort, though, was not wasted ... because Morton's pitching helped Atlanta secure the Game 1 victory -- and now the Braves only need 3 more wins to take home the Commissioner's Trophy.

Tough dude.

Braves' Marcell Ozuna Arrested for Domestic Violence Cops Allegedly Witnessed ... Granted $20k Bond

UPDATE

2:05 PM PT -- 5/31 -- Ozuna's been granted a $20k bond and is expected to be released from jail later Monday. He's also been ordered to stay away from his wife, and attorneys for the couple stated in court that they're in the process of divorce.

UPDATE

8:45 PM PT -- Sandy Springs PD tells TMZ Sports they witnessed Marcell Ozuna grab his wife by the neck and slam her into a wall -- in addition to striking her with his injured arm.

UPDATE

It’s all part of a bombshell statement issued by the Sandy Springs PD, which confirms the alleged victim is, in fact, Ozuna’s wife

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And, then add: Here is the statement from the police, in full.

UPDATE

Earlier today at 12:26 PM, Sandy Springs Police Officers received a 911 call requesting they respond to a residence on Windsor Cove regarding an assault in progress. As Officers arrived to the home, they heard screaming coming from inside and noticed the front door wide open. Due to the exigency of the known facts, Officers entered the residence through the open door and witnessed the suspect grabbing the victim by the neck and throwing her against a wall.

UPDATE

Officers were able to immediately take the suspect into custody without further incident. In addition to the strangulation attempts, the suspect also struck the victim with his arm which has a cast from a previous injury. Preliminary investigation has revealed this incident to be domestic related between the suspect and his wife, both residents of the Windsor Cove home.

UPDATE

The suspect, Marcell Ozuna was arrested and has been charged with the following:

UPDATE

- Aggravated Assault by Strangulation under the Domestic Violence Act
- Battery under the Domestic Violence Act

UPDATE

The victim did have visible injuries, but was not transported to the hospital.

UPDATE

The suspect has been booked into the Fulton County Jail on the above charges and is awaiting prosecution.

Atlanta Braves star Marcell Ozuna was arrested for domestic violence on Saturday ... and is currently sitting in county jail in Georgia.

The 30-year-old outfielder was arrested by Sandy Springs PD (GA) and booked into Fulton County Jail (GA) earlier today for "Aggravated Assault Strangulation" and Battery on a family member, according to jail records.

The records indicate the alleged incident occurred on Saturday. The alleged victim is not identified.

The 2x All-Star -- who was placed on the IL after mangling his fingers at a play at 3rd base earlier this week -- is listed at 6'2", 237 lbs., per jail records.

The Braves -- who signed Ozuna to a 4-year, $65 million deal in 2020 -- issued a statement addressing the arrest.

"We learned of Marcell Ozuna's arrest earlier this evening and immediately informed the commissioner's office. The Braves fully support Major League Baseball's policy on domestic violence which stresses to the fullest that our society cannot and will not tolerate domestic violence in any form," the Braves said.

"Until the investigation is completed, we will have no further comment and all inquiries into the matter should be referred to the office of the commissioner."

FYI, Genesis Ozuna, Marcell's wife, was arrested in June 2020 for allegedly hitting the MLB star in the face with a soap dish.

Originally Published -- 5/29 7:54 PM PT

Hank Aaron Memorial Service Held In Atlanta ... Teammates, Legends Pay Respects

Hank Aaron's closest friends and teammates joined to pay their respects to the late baseball legend on Tuesday ... with the Atlanta Braves hosting an emotional memorial service.

Hammerin' Hank -- who famously finished his career with 755 home runs -- died last Friday of natural causes.

GREAT PLAYER, BETTER MAN
Atlanta Braves

Names like Chipper Jones, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and Marquis Grissom spoke at the ceremony in person.

Chipper told the story about how Hank told the Braves to draft him back in the day.

"Y'all better draft that Jones boy. I'll never forget that," Jones regaled ... "That comment must carry some weight."

Jones added, "I respected the man so much. I wouldn't want to disappoint him or his family."

Rob Manfred explained why it was destiny for Hank to break Babe Ruth's career home run record.

"Just like Jackie Robinson was the perfect person to change our game forever, Hank Aaron was the perfect person to see the historic moment he created in 1974."

Other stars like John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Dusty Baker, Dale Murphy, Freddie Freeman and more paid tribute via pre-recorded videos.

Glavine said, "We've all seen the movie 'Field of Dreams' ... if there is a baseball team in heaven, they just picked up one heck of a clean-up hitter."

Other Braves alum in attendance include Ron Gant, Gary Matthews and Jeff Francoeur.

Hank Aaron Dead at 86

UPDATE

11:27 AM PT -- President Barack Obama released a passionate statement on the late legend ... praising him for being an icon and leader on and off the diamond.

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"Whenever Michelle and I spent time with Hank and his wife, Billye, we were struck by their kindness, generosity and grace -- and were reminded that we stood on the shoulders of a previous generation of trailblazers."

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"Today, Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to the Aaron family and everyone who was inspired by this unassuming man and his towering example."

UPDATE
UPDATE

10:07 AM PT -- Barry Bonds -- the man who famously broke Aaron's home run record -- shared a heartfelt post on the legend's passing Friday.

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"I was lucky enough to spend time with Hank on several occasions during my career and have always had the deepest respect and admiration for all that he did both on and off the field."

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"He is an icon, a legend and a true hero to so many, who will be forever missed."

UPDATE
UPDATE

"Hank Aaron -- thank you for everything you ever taught us, for being a trailblazer through adversity and setting an example for all of us African-American ballplayers who came after you."

UPDATE

"Being able to grow up and have the idols and role models I did, helped shape me for a future I could have never dreamed of."

UPDATE

9:01 AM PT -- The Atlanta Braves say they're "absolutely devastated" by the death of Aaron ... calling him a "beacon for our organization."

UPDATE

"His incredible talent and resolve helped him achieve the highest accomplishments, yet he never lost his humble nature," the MLB org. said Friday.

UPDATE

"Henry Louis Aaron wasn't just our icon, but one across Major League Baseball and around the world. His success on the diamond was matched only by his business accomplishments off the field and capped by his extraordinary philanthropic efforts."

Hank Aaron -- one of the greatest baseball players of all time -- has died. He was 86.

The Hall of Famer reportedly passed away Friday morning. We're working on the details.

Hammerin' Hank is widely considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time -- he famously broke Babe Ruth's home run record of 714 in 1973.

During his legendary career, he made 25 All-Star teams and won the NL MVP in 1957.

Aaron made his MLB debut when he was only 20 -- launching a 23-year career that would go down in the record books.

He retired from playing in 1976 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1982. He's also in the Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame and the team retired his #44 uniform.

In fact, he's such a legend in Atlanta ... the city's mayor said Friday his death is nothing short of devastating.

"While the world knew him as 'Hammering Hank Aaron' because of his incredible, record-setting baseball career," Keisha Lance Bottoms said, "he was a cornerstone of our village, graciously and freely joining Mrs. Aaron in giving their presence and resources toward making our city a better place."

Among his many career highlights, a World Series victory in 1957 -- the same year he won National League MVP. He also won 3 Gold Gloves, 2 NL batting titles and led the NL in home runs in 4 separate years.

Hank finished his career with an unreal 755 home runs -- a record that lasted decades until Barry Bonds broke it in 2007.

Aaron was a hero right up until the end of his life -- earlier this month, Hank and his wife Billye went to the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta to get their COVID vaccine shots in the hopes of inspiring other Black Americans to follow his lead.

Aaron started off in the Negro Leagues, signing with the Indianapolis Clowns in 1951. He played with the team for 3 months -- earning just $200 per month. He signed with the Atlanta Braves in 1952 and kicked around the minor leagues until 1954.

Superstars from sports, entertainment, politics and more are paying tribute to Aaron …

"Rest in Peace to American hero, icon, and Hall of Famer Hank Aaron," Magic Johnson said. "I still remember where I was back in the day when he set the record, at that time, to become the home run all time leader."

"While a legendary athlete, Hank Aaron was also an extraordinary businessman and paved the way for other athletes like me to successfully transition into business. Hank Aaron is on the Mount Rushmore for the greatest baseball players of all time! Rest In Peace my friend."

Added Bill Russell, "Heartbroken to see another true friend & pioneer has passed away. [Hank Aaron] was so much better than his reputation! His contributions were much more than just baseball. Jeannine & I send our prayers & deepest condolences to his wife & kids."

Legendary MLB slugger Frank Thomas also issued a statement on Twitter, writing, "I’m speechless! RIP to the greatest of all time Mr. Hank Aaron!! I’m just stunned. Hank was the standard of greatness for me. The one man who I acted like a kid around star struck always! He was the definition of class! God Bless you and your family!!"

Mike Trout added ... "You were and are an inspiration to be a better person on and off the field. We lost a true LEGEND of the game today... #RIPHankAaron 🙏🏼"

Cal Ripkin, Jr. shared his condolences, saying, "I’m saddened to learn of Hank’s passing. He was a giant in our game and inspired so many on and off the field."

"What he endured and how he persevered to surpass the all-time HR record, thought to be unbreakable, was remarkable. My thoughts are with his family and @Braves fans."

RIP

Originally Published -- 7:39 AM PT

Phil Niekro Knuckleball Pitcher Dead at 81 ... After Cancer Battle

Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro -- famous for his wicked knuckleball that allowed him to pitch as an older guy -- has died.

The Atlanta Braves made the announcement Sunday, saying Niekro passed away Saturday in his sleep at his home in the ATL suburb of Flowery Branch. They say he'd been battling cancer for a while.

The Braves heaped praise on Phil ... "Knucksie was woven into the Braves fabric, first in Milwaukee and then in Atlanta. Phil baffled batters on the field and later was always the first to join in our community activities." They add that he was a longtime presence in their clubhouse and community for years to come after finally retiring from baseball in 1987.

Niekro was one of the rare knuckleball pitchers who could seemingly wield an uncontrollable and unpredictable pitch ... a rare skill that helped him stay on the mound well into his 40s, which isn't all that common in baseball (for pitchers, anyway). And, yes, his stuff was nasty.

He had a cumulative ERA of 3.35 over the course of his 23-year career, with a total of 3,342 strikeouts and a win record of 318. Phil got his start in the big leagues with the Braves in '64 and played for them until 1983, at which he began to bounce around a few different teams.

The man played for the Yankees, the Indians, the Blue Jays ... and finally, circled back to his first love and ended his career in Atlanta. During his final outing on September 27, he received a massive standing ovation from the crowd as he bid them and baseball adieu.

Phil was a five-time gold glove winner and a five-time all-star, plus the recipient of tons of other accolades ... including the MLB ERA leader at one point, the National League strikeout leader and more. PN was inducted into the MLB HOF in 1997 as fifth ballot candidate.

He's survived by his wife, Nancy, his three sons and grandchildren. He was 81.

RIP

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