- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 12, 2009

In case you were wondering who held baseball’s most cherished record - the career home run mark - it was made clear on Monday when Baseball Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson was introduced as the guest speaker before a National Press Club luncheon.

Donna Leinwand, the press club president, talked about the diversity of exhibits at Cooperstown, including the 755th home run ball - asterisk and all - hit by “Bobby Bonds.”


No one mentioned Barry Bonds’ name Monday, but Hank Aaron’s name came up a lot. And whether intentional or not, the well-deserved glorifying of Aaron is a statement against Barry Bonds and the entire steroid era - which the Hall of Fame plans to deal with at some point as the steroid saga evolves, Idelson said.

Idleson added: “In the museum, we have a statement that reads as follows, ‘This museum is committed to presenting and interpreting baseball history as it unfolds.’ Many records have been set and milestones reached during the last few decades, and the effects steroids have had on these accolades needs to be examined with the perspective of time. In this museum you will find artifacts, images and stories of players who have or who have been suspected of using steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. The stories and its impact on the game are evolving. … When there is a better understanding of performance-enhancing drugs and their impact on history, the museum will be telling that story honestly and impartially.”

It won’t get any prettier with the passage of time. It never does.

Meanwhile, the Hall just opened a new exhibit called “Chasing the Dream: The Hank Aaron Story” - the tale of Aaron’s pursuit of Babe Ruth’s career home run record 35 years ago.

“Hank Aaron defines Hall of Fame excellence,” Idelson said. “Hank Aaron remains an American hero. He remains incredibly relevant.”

Hero. Hall of Fame excellence. These are not words Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez and others who are part of the cheating generation will ever hear.

“The exhibit will be physically the centerpiece of the Hank Aaron Gallery of Records, which will open in two years,” Idelson said. “We wanted to pick an icon to represent all record holders, and Hank stands above all with all the records he held when he retired and still holds.”

Idelson did note that Aaron is technically second on the career home run list - but unless you are a thick as a brick, you can see what is going on here.

What happened in San Francisco on Aug. 7, 2007, when Bonds stepped up to the plate and drove a Mike Bacsik pitch into the right-center field bleachers, didn’t happen, for all intents and purposes. There will be no need to wipe away any records. Barry Bonds will simply disappear through the culture of the game, represented as a trinket in the Hall of Fame and nothing more.

Right now, the Hall of Fame is standing pat with the way its members are elected - by the Baseball Writers Association of America - and with the qualifications for induction. Idelson pointed out that three of the qualifications have nothing to do with statistics.

“We ask our voters to look at a player’s character, integrity, sportsmanship and contributions to the teams whom they have played for,” Idelson said. “Baseball writers take a look at the rules that we provide them with and will have to determine how they feel about the era, how they feel about players and whether or not they deserve a place in Cooperstown. Whomever they will chose to elect, we will honor at the Hall of Fame.

“We have had a relationship with the writers since 1936, when Hall of Fame voting began. We all know that the newspaper business isn’t as healthy as it once was. We’re committed to standing by the BBWAA as long as they continue to cover the game, which gives candidates a review by a peer generation of impartial voters. If that model changes, we will be prepared to change as well. Today the system works well, and we hope it will continue to do so.”

Mark McGwire has been the highest-profile steroid-implicated player to come up on the ballot for consideration, and he has fallen well short of the required 75 percent needed to induction in his first two years of eligibility. But other big names will follow for perhaps the next two decades, from Bonds to Clemens to Alex Rodriguez, who has admitted he tested positive for steroids in 2003.

Idelson said time will determine the legacy of the stars of the steroid era.

“The beauty of our system is the perspective of time,” he said.

No one in the steroid era has started to look better with time, though. What we know now won’t be as bad as what we know tomorrow - and five years from now.

And then, as it was in 1974 when he hit No. 715 to pass Babe Ruth and as it is today, Hank Aaron will remain an American hero. Time won’t change that.

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