The only man recognized as baseball’s true home run king — without the benefit of a laboratory detour — is finally speaking out. No more hanging back by Henry Aaron. No more letting others do the talking.
“My feeling has always been the same – the game of baseball has no place for cheaters,” Aaron said Sunday morning. “There’s no place in the Hall of Fame for people who cheat.”
He was speaking by phone from Cooperstown, where he was attending the Hall of Fame induction of Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice. Aaron has been to several of these ceremonies. But he probably hasn’t created this kind of news since his own enshrinement 27 years ago.
It started Saturday when he told a small group of reporters that he would be in favor of players from the steroid era going into the Hall with asterisks by their name, indicating their statistics might have been artificially enhanced. One excerpt: “Somewhere on the plaque or behind his name, say, ‘Hey, 73 home runs, da da da da, he was accused of …”
It was by far the strongest comments from Aaron I could remember. But those words were tame compared to what he said early Sunday morning when I phoned him. Aaron said his comments about asterisks pertained only to players suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs. But what of players who actually are proven to have taken drugs?
“That’s a different story,” he said. “If it’s proven that you took any kind of drug or substance, then you shouldn’t be there [in the Hall]. Like I said, the game has no place for cheaters.”
And then this: Aaron wants the list of 104 players who tested positive in baseball’s confidential drug tests in 2003 exposed. So far, two names have leaked out in media reports: Sammy Sosa and Alex Rodriguez.
“If there’s another 102 players on the list, that would be my position – bring it all to light now and get it over with,” he said. “The game has come through things before. It needs to come through this. If there are a hundred and some names on the list, let’s just get them out and get this over with so we can get on with the game.”
“That’s it,” he said. “We need to bring closure to this.”
Aaron is right. It’s understandable that many have grown weary of steroids stories. But baseball never truly can move on until we understand the extent of what happened in the past.
That said, Aaron’s candidness seemed stunning. He largely had maintained a low profile on the subject, particularly during Barry Bonds’ chase of his career home run record. When I mentioned that to him, he laughed.
“Well, I’ve always felt this way,” he said. “There was just so much being said about it, I figured I would just kind of step back and listen. I didn’t want to open up any more doors that hadn’t already been opened. But when somebody asked me a question [Saturday] about, ‘Well, how do we handle this if a player from the steroid era is voted in,’ I just answered it. But I haven’t been losing any sleep at night.”
Asterisks won’t be necessary if suspected cheaters aren’t voted in. Hall of Fame voters have made their feelings clear on Mark McGwire. He has been on the ballot for three years and hasn’t received more than 23 percent of the vote (75 is needed).
Aaron hit 755 home runs. He did it the right way. He knows the difference between real and fantasy.
The 1998 battle between McGwire (70 homers) and Sosa (66)? Pure fantasy.
Bonds’ 73 homers in 2001 – and the 51.6 he averaged for five seasons between the ages of 36 and 40? Please.
But Aaron knows baseball can’t just whitewash statistics. It’s not feasible.
“There’s no way to just erase 73 home runs,” he said. “But I know some of those numbers being put up were impossible. The best thing is to just say, ‘They played in this era.’”
We’ve always known the truth. But it means more coming from Aaron.