COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - Baseball Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson says the reactions among Hall of Famers to recent greats being ensnared by performance- enhancing drugs range from disappointment to confusion to anger.
"By and large they struggle with it a bit because it's so foreign," Idelson said last week. "It was not something that was available when they played. Guys are very protective of the game's integrity."
Perhaps you can put Rickey Henderson down in the disappointed and confused camp, even though steroids emerged as a force in the second half of his 25-year, first-ballot Hall of Fame career.
Actually, it's kind of confusing trying to figure out what the greatest leadoff hitter of all time actually thinks about the Steroids Era, which had another chapter written Thursday with the 50-game suspension of Manny Ramirez.
"I don't see that they did anything wrong," the stolen-base king said of players using PEDs. "They took advantage of the game."
And, as the Oakland A, New York Yankee and star for seven other franchises showed over the years dancing off of first, baseball is all about exploiting an advantage.
But then Henderson, who toured the Hall of Fame Friday in advance of his July induction, turned around and lamented the proliferation of PEDs, which he said he wasn't fully aware of despite sharing a clubhouse with Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. (That said, he added he was never tempted because bulking up would rob him of speed.)
"It's troubling a little bit, but they are trying to correct it. They are trying to clean it up."
So, are steroids and other PEDs an understandable outgrowth of athletes seeking an edge, or should the perps be banned from these hallowed halls that will admit him in a handful of weeks?
"It was the era and the time, but we don't know what it really meant to the game," Henderson said. "I can't even ask 'Do they deserve to be in the Hall of Fame?'
"I can understand that it was an era something was going on . . . and at that time I don't think it was considered in baseball illegal."
OK, there's some modern-day Stengelese going on here. Nothing is easy when it comes to this issue and Cooperstown, even for a clean athlete merely asked about it.
But these are the issues we deal with instead of reliving Henderson's greatness. And make no mistake: For a player who was so brash ("competitive," Henderson corrects), Rickey might be one of the most underrated players from any era.
The 10-time All-Star is the career leader in stolen bases, runs and unintentional walks. His record 130 steals in 1982 is up there with DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. Consider this: He had 84 steals at the '82 All-Star break. The last player with 84 steals in a season? Henderson, who stole 93 in 1988.
Henderson led the league in steals 12 times, and led off games with homers 81 times. The Man of Steal had a flaky side - and, really, I still have no clue what he thinks about the Steroids Era - but he's undoubtedly one of the best to have ever played.
At least this much is clear: Henderson, a sculpted left fielder who will go in with Jim Rice, should eventually see his long career viewed in an even greater light as a result of baseball's ongoing mess.
"It makes me more proud that my accomplishments are clean." Henderson said. "I did it the right way."