Lost in the hubbub of the Hall of Fame induction this weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y., were some fascinating comments about the Steroid Era from a couple of baseball's all-time greats, including home run king Hank Aaron.
But isn't Barry Bonds the new record holder thanks to his 762 career dingers?
According to Major League Baseball? Yes.
But not according to Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, who says that performance-enhancing drugs have cast a shadow on baseball's records and "hurt the integrity of the game."
See, Aaron told ESPN.com this week that he's willing to accept steroid users into the Hall of Fame. But he also wondered aloud if players who have been linked to performance-enhancers should have asterisks posted beside their career numbers.
"The thing is, do you put these guys in, or do you put an asterisk beside their names and say, 'Hey, they did it, but here's why?'" Aaron asked a group of reporters in Cooperstown. "To be safe, that's the only way I see that you can do it."
Fellow Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith agreed with Aaron's view.
"For those people in this particular era, the only thing I think you can do is put an asterisk by it. And the asterisk has to read that these numbers were accomplished during the Steroid Era.
"Baseball has always been a game where we've had an idea of what was real and what wasn't," Smith continued. "In this particular era, I don't know if any of us know what's real and what's not.
"Who's to say when a guy started using and when he stopped?" Smith asked. "From that standpoint, it's gonna be tough when guys who have been accused of using steroids start making it into the Hall of Fame. ? There are a lot of issues we're going to have to deal with in the very near future."
Killebrew, ninth on the career list with 573 homers, took a different tack, questioning Bonds, many of his contemporaries and their inflated numbers this past week.
"As far as I'm concerned, Hank Aaron is the all-time home run champ, and Roger Maris should still have the [single-season] record at 61," Killebrew said.
Always the gentleman, Aaron accepts Bonds as baseball's new home run leader. And while Aaron's response was a smidge more diplomatic, he remains skeptical of the modern home run totals put up by the likes of Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and others.
"I played the game long enough to know, and it is impossible for players — I don't care who they are — to hit 70 home runs," Aaron said. "It just does not happen. I think that's one reason why people's eyes started opening up, and they said, 'How can this guy do this?'"
And Hall voters seem to agree.
Despite breaking Maris' single-season mark in 1998 with 70 home runs and putting up a career total of 583, McGwire has been on the Hall of Fame ballot for three years without election. This year, his name showed up on only 21.9 percent of the ballots cast, well short of the 75 percent required for induction.
Tigers and Phillies Hall of Famer and current U.S. senator Jim Bunning took a hard line similar to that of Killebrew in a recent article for U.S. News & World Report:
"Major League Baseball," he wrote, "must set an example so that children and young athletes don't see steroids as a way to get ahead of the competition. If a player is caught using banned substances in an effort to break records set by players who achieved them through honest hard work, I think those numbers should be expunged from the record books. There is no place for cheaters in the Hall of Fame."
Allowing cheaters entrance to the hallowed halls of Cooperstown is part of the debate. Another part is whether it's fair to judge players from earlier eras by the exaggerated power totals of today.
Interviewed following Sunday's enshrinement of former teammate Jim Rice, former Red Sox outfielder Dwight Evans made it clear that baseball's recently puffed-up power numbers helped keep Rice out of the Hall until his final year of eligibility.
"Steroids played a lot in the escalation of the stats," Evans said. "The stats [now] are all padded. Finally, it's been exposed the last two or three years. They said, 'This guy [Rice] did it on his own, and he should be recognized for it.' I truly believe that's what has happened here. It's too late, but it's happening."
But with McGwire still on the ballot and names like Bonds, Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Gary Sheffield, Roger Clemens and eventually Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez set to become part of the Hall debate, a day of reckoning lies somewhere out there on the horizon.
Will their stats be examined with a fine-toothed comb? Will they ever get in?
If a PED-accused player like Bonds or McGwire were elected, Aaron disclosed that some of his fellow Hall of Famers might go so far as to walk off the stage in protest.
"I don't need to tell you who,'' Aaron said. "But I think some players would do that. The people I've talked to certainly have some resentment toward it.''
It's clear that they're not alone.