Somewhere in an attic, a crawlspace or, most likely, a landfill is a Henry Aaron autograph that I foolishly misplaced.
Aaron signed my pink (don’t ask) autograph book in the early to mid-’60s, well before anyone thought he would break Babe Ruth’s all-time home-run record.
I’m sure his autograph and his 1962 Topps card is with my baseball card collection, which would be the envy of any serious fan.
He signed my book "Henry Aaron," which confused me because the baseball cards all said "Hank Aaron."
His best season to that point was 1962, when he hit 45 home runs and drove in 130. He was a steady performer. He never was a threat to hit 60 home runs and never hit more than 47 in a year (1971). He’s remembered for his slugging prowess, yet he was an excellent runner as well. He stole 31 bases in 1963.
I remember him getting off the team bus and graciously signing autographs for us kids. I don’t think he refused anyone, unlike a couple of his Milwaukee Braves teammates, who walked past us as if we didn’t exist.
It’s amazing what sticks in the mind of a 9-year-old. I respected Aaron before I got that autograph and even more afterward. I thought he was one of baseball’s class acts.
My memories of Aaron have been revived because Barry Bonds is about to break Aaron’s record for most home runs hit in a career.
I’ve never met Bonds or tried to get his autograph, but from everything I read in newspapers and magazines and see on television, he may be in a class by himself, but he’s not a class act.
I should like Bonds. His father, Bobby, was one of my favorite players, and his godfather, Willie Mays, was the best all-around player ever, in my humble opinion. But Bonds comes across as a pompous, self-centered jerk and many consider him the ultimate cheater.
His run to Aaron’s record is tainted by allegations he has used steroids to enhance his performance. Some longtime baseball fans think Bonds’ record should be marked with an asterisk because of the steroid allegations.
That’s not necessary, because if Bonds has been using steroids he will die young.
One of the facts glossed over in many of the stories about how steroids make you bigger and stronger is that steroids will kill you.
There’s plenty of evidence of that in the sports world. Steroids were not the direct cause of these deaths, but it would be naive to think they didn’t contribute in some way.
Chris Benoit, professional wrestler. Benoit killed his wife, his son and himself. Toxicology reports showed Benoit had steroids and other drugs in his system. He was 40.
Ken Caminiti, the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1996, admitted in an interview with Sports Illustrated that he used steroids when he won the award. He died at age 41 of a heart attack.
Lyle Alzado, pro football player. Alzado became the poster boy for steroid abuse when he became one of the first professional athletes to admit to using the drug. He died from brain lymphoma, a rare form of cancer, at age 43. Although there is no medical link between steroids and brain lymphoma, Alzado said drugs caused his cancer.
John Matuszak, pro football player. It was never proved that Matuszak took steroids, but few people die at age 38 just because they’ve partied too hard in their lives.
Steroids are so dangerous, President Bush talked about them in his State of the Union Address in 2004.
"To help children make right choices, they need good examples," Bush said. "Athletics play such an important role in our society, but, unfortunately, some in professional sports are not setting much of an example. The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football and other sports is dangerous, and it sends the wrong message — that there are shortcuts to accomplishment, and that performance is more important than character. So tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough and to get rid of steroids now."
Steroids are addictive — you get addicted to results. They are not a magic pill — you still have to spend hours in the gym to make your muscles grow — but once you stop using them, your gains disappear. Most athletes don’t want to take that chance, so they remain on the deadly cycle.
Perhaps Bonds is as innocent as he claims, but many see his assault on the record books as an assault on the purity of baseball itself.
Perhaps he’ll live a long life. He just turned 43. Hank Aaron is 73.
Wally Haas is editorial page editor of the Rockford Register Star. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.