Part of the beauty and curse of baseball is that numbers and statistics can be compared from one generation to another.
Fans argue in barbershops, across office cubicles and on sports talk radio, trying to dissect the significance of those hallowed statistics to determine the best of all time.
Perhaps the most intense arguments surface when the conversation turns to the best home run hitters in history: Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron, Babe Ruth. Certainly, the all-time home run list should be the final word in that debate. Yet there are always extenuating circumstances which influence those comparisons.
I have had discussions with Ruth's grandson, Tom Stevens, about this topic.
Stevens is an engineer who grew up idolizing Mickey Mantle. He says the steroid controversy has caused him to lose respect for alleged and suspected abusers such as Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa and Bonds. He feels the use of an asterisk next to the names of alleged steroid abusers would be "one way to treat it, certainly. It is a very awkward situation.
"I haven't seen any earlier pictures of Palmeiro, but it is very clear when you look at Mark McGwire, and you look at Barry, and even Sammy to some extent, too, you can see a huge, huge difference. Nowhere is it more prominent and more pronounced than with Barry Bonds, though."
The Ruth family has presented an annual award to MLB's home run champion. Stevens met Bonds after he hit 73 homers in 2001 "and Bonds couldn't have been nicer."
Stevens, who describes himself as a gym rat, said he and Bonds even discussed workout routines and natural workout supplements. "Steroids never came up. I wouldn't want to touch that to (tick) him off," said Stevens.
Stevens finds the Major League Players Association as culpable as commissioner Bud Selig for creating this awkward situation.
"Their inactivity brought this about," he said. "They made their bed and they have got to lie in it. But going forward, there has to be a comprehensive (steroid) policy to restore the faith.
"At the time, (Bonds) wasn't breaking any (MLB) rules and neither was McGwire. There was no policy in place. That's unforgivable. Baseball really brought it on itself. It is a little unfortunate in Barry Bonds' case, because he was more than just power. He was well on his way to the Hall of Fame before he ever touched steroids."
Stevens, who acknowledges Aaron's arduous road to success because of racism and death threats during and after his pursuit of Ruth's revered home run record, still considers his grandfather the greatest home run hitter of all-time because he hit 714 in fewer at-bats than Aaron or Bonds.
Ruth hit 714 homers in 8,398 at bats. Aaron hit his 714th in his 11,289th at bat on Opening Day, April 4, 1974 against the Reds' Jack Billingham. Aaron belted 755 homers in 12,364 at-bats. Bonds has 762 homers in 9,847 at-bats.
"In terms of sheer productivity, there has been nobody who has been able to match Babe Ruth," said Stevens.