- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- As the debate rages over whether a place should exist in the Baseball Hall of Fame for players whose names are linked to performance-enhancing drugs, former home run king Hank Aaron said Saturday that he's willing to accept steroid users into the club.
But Aaron also believes players linked to performance-enhancers should have asterisks posted beside their career numbers. And he's convinced that some of his fellow Hall of Famers would walk off the stage in protest if a confirmed steroid user is ever inducted.
"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 told several reporters in Cooperstown. "To be safe, that's the only way I see that you can do it."
Aaron is one of 50 Hall of Famers in attendance for the induction of Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice this weekend. The steroid issue is particularly hot in the aftermath of Manny Ramirez's 50-game suspension; Alex Rodriguez's admission that he used performance-enhancing drugs while with the Texas Rangers from 2001 to 2003; and a recent New York Times report that Sammy Sosa flunked a drug test in 2003.
Aaron, 75, held baseball's career record with 755 home runs until he was passed two years ago by Barry Bonds, who has pleaded not guilty to lying to a federal grand jury investigating BALCO. Bonds, who hasn't played since 2007, finished his career with 762 homers.
Although Aaron is not as vehement in his stand against performance-enhancers as some of his fellow Hall of Famers, he believes the gargantuan power numbers amassed in the past decade should be viewed rightfully with skepticism.
"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?'
"It's hard to say the reason you hit a home run is because you're on steroids. I don't believe that. I believe your body can recuperate quickly to come back on the field. But I certainly don't think you can stand up there and hit a Nolan Ryan 100 mph fastball just because you put something in your arm or took a pill.''
Roger Maris' 61 homers stood as baseball's single-season record from 1961 through 1998, when Mark McGwire passed it with 70. Bonds set the mark three years later with 73 homers, and Sosa hit 66, 63 and 64 homers in a four-year span between 1998 and 2001.
Sosa, McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Gary Sheffield and Roger Clemens are among the other players who will go on the Hall of Fame ballot in the coming years who have been linked either directly or indirectly to use of performance-enhancing drugs.
McGwire, eighth on baseball's career list with 583 homers, appeared on only 21.9 percent of ballots in voting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America in December, considerably short of the 75 percent required for induction.
Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, ninth on the career list with 573 homers, expressed frustration last week about the list of players who are climbing the career ranks and linked with the help of performance-enhancers. Killebrew said the tarnished records have "hurt the integrity of the game."
"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, but Barry Bonds is the name you see in the record book," Killebrew said.
Aaron said his conversations with his fellow Hall of Famers have revealed that some would walk off the stage in protest if a confirmed steroid user were honored in Cooperstown.
"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.''
Aaron doesn't dispute Bonds' status as baseball's current home run champ. At the same time, he expressed gratitude for Killebrew's show of support.
"I appreciate it, but I'm still second," Aaron said. "Like I told somebody the other day, 'No matter how [people] feel, I don't think I'm going to ever hit another home run.' It's all over with. I can't even play 18 holes of golf anymore."
Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com.
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