U Can't Touch This
The story behind MC Hammer’s photo with “Hammerin'” Hank Aaron
Stanley was working as a Oakland A's "clubhouse" boy and the players nicknamed him "Hammer" because of his resumblence to the legionary slugger Hank Aaron who was called "The Hammer".
Perhaps you’ve seen the picture: Late-career Henry Aaron, wearing a Milwaukee Brewers jersey, posing in front of his locker next to a grinning kid in a tank top.
That kid is Stanley Burrell, an Oakland native who grew up to become MC Hammer, a stage-name inspired by Aaron’s nickname.
When news broke that Aaron had died, at age 86, Burrell posted the 1975 photo on his Twitter account under a tweet that read:
“His dignity unsurpassed. The embodiment of Black Excellence before the term was conceived. He took the arrows, knives and venom of hatred and racism in stride without missing a step. Breaking records but never broken. King of baseball’s kingdom sans a crown.”
Before rap stardom in the 1990s, before “U Can’t Touch This” and hammer pants, Burrell was just a kid who used to hang out at the Oakland Coliseum parking lot waiting for a spare ticket to watch the day’s game. As a young teen he would sneak around the A’s clubhouses, too, where his two brothers were bat boys.
Burrell had been around enough that he became a familiar face, and not just with the A’s. One day, as longtime A’s clubhouse manager Steve Vucinich tells it, Burrell caught the eye of a visiting player. The guy had played for the Braves, had played alongside Aaron, and thought this kid bore a striking resemblance to “Hammerin’ Hank.”
And so it was that Burrell became known as “Hammer.”
Word of the nickname spread across the A’s organization, all the way to the top. Owner Charlie Finley gave Burrell a job. The kid was to sit in the owner’s box and do play-by-play for Finley over the phone when Finley wasn’t in attendance for a game.
“Charlie called him his vice president,” Vucinich said.
Retired Oakland Tribune photographer Ron Riesterer snapped a few photos of Burrell, the Little Hammer, sitting with Finley in his private box.
“The players thought he was a spy for Finley,” Riesterer said.
On occasion, Burrell would serve as a bat boy wearing No. 44, Aaron’s number, with “Hammer” on the back and “VP”– for vice president — on his hat. There are photos, shot by Riesterer, of Burrell popping bottles of champagne with the A’s after they won the A.L. West in 1975.
The nickname led to another perk for Burrell: a chance to take a photo with his new idol and namesake. Aaron had spent 21 years of his Hall of Fame career with the Braves, in Milwaukee and Atlanta, before spending his final two at age 41 and 42 with the Brewers, who were in the American League then. That meant a visit to Oakland twice a year.
Riesterer was working as an unofficial A’s photographer in 1975 when the team approached him with an idea: When the Brewers are in town, take Little Hammer to meet the Hammer.
“Hank was sitting alone at his locker,” Riesterer said. “I walked up to him with the Little Hammer and said, ‘Hank, I’d like a picture of you two guys. you look alike.’ ”
Aaron, having been subjected to so much racism, wasn’t sure what to make of the photographer’s words.
“He straightened up and I corrected it real fast,” he said. “I said ‘They call him Hammer. He’s the A’s clubhouse boy.’ ”
Aaron gave Burrell a look, smiled and put an arm around the kid’s shoulder. Riesterer snapped the photo.
The photo grew in value when Little Hammer turned into MC Hammer, appearing in Rolling Stone and many other publications.
“That gentle, warm, joyful smile and his heartfelt embrace of a little kid from East Oakland in a moment empowered and changed my life,” Burrell tweeted about the photo. “Hank ‘The Hammer’ Aaron smiled upon me. The love shown is forever appreciated. I am Hammer because he was ‘Hammering Hank Aaron.'”
The name's Jones....freakin' Mustache Jones.