LOS ANGELES — He has been through so much, the struggle, the hatred, the fear, the achievements, that the loss of his most conspicuous of baseball records, 755 career home runs, seems almost insignificant to Henry Aaron.

If and when Barry Bonds ties or breaks the mark next season, Aaron will not be present, as a supporting actor or a critic.

"First, I don't like to fly," Aaron said. "And if I come, there's going to be some controversy. And if I don't come, there's going to be some controversy."

The controversy with Bonds, of course, involves the claims he used steroids, which helped him hit a record single-season 73 home runs in 2001 and a total of 734 through 2005.

Aaron shrugs off the issue the way Hank used to shrug off Don Drysdale's dusters.

"I have pride in the record," Aaron agreed, "but records are made to be broken. But the reason I don't want to get involved is everybody is innocent until proven guilty, and we can talk, we can talk, we can talk, but until there's proof, I have no comment."

Aaron was in Los Angeles on Monday as this year's recipient of the Roy Firestone Award presented by Westcoast Sports Associates, a group of young professionals who through their charity dinner and auction raise more than $200,000 annually to fund sports programs for underprivileged youth.

The honoree — last year it was Steve Young, the year before Arnold Palmer — must be involved in charity work of his own, which Aaron is through the Chasing a Dream foundation based in Atlanta.


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Firestone not only was the master of ceremonies but also taped a long segment with Aaron for Roy's new show, "Face to Face," on yet another cable channel, HD Net.

Asked by Firestone whether, had he played in an era of enhancement substances, Henry would use them, the 72-year-old Aaron was noncommittal but also less than self-righteous.

"I've never been put in that position," Aaron explained. "I don't know if I would or would not. I can say I never did.

"But here's the problem we now have: You got a player dressing beside me, hitting 55-60 home runs, and you think you've got almost the same ability as he has other than what he's taken, but you don't take anything. And you say, 'Man, I wonder if I take the same thing, would I hit 60-70 home runs?'

"The problem is the competition."

Dusty Baker, the former Giants and Cubs manager and an Aaron protg, was in attendance at the awards dinner. So was Reggie Jackson. They, following in Hank's steps, as Hank said he followed in Jackie Robinson's, understand what Aaron went through to reach the top.

"I'm a survivor," Aaron said.

He remembers as a 7-year-old in Mobile, Ala., hiding under a bed as the Ku Klux Klan marched menacingly. He remembers being forced to eat in separate restaurants from white teammates when going to spring training in the 1950s and early'60s. He remembers the hate mail when in 1974 he tied and then passed Babe Ruth's 714 home run total.

And he also remembers the advice of black leader Andrew Young. "For two years after I passed Babe Ruth," Aaron explains, "I was very bitter about my treatment. But Andy Young told me, 'If you're bitter, you're defeated.' I felt I accomplished too much to say I hate, I despise."

What he says now, reviewing the baseball season, is Alex Rodriguez ought to ask for a trade from the Yankees.

"No matter what he does, for his money, people think he ought to do more," Aaron pointed out. "When you try to do that, you get in trouble. There's only room for one king in New York, and it's Derek Jeter."

Bonds has been the king of San Francisco for a long while, although the Giants upper echelon has suggested Barry will be reduced in rank, however that is to be viewed.

"I would say," Aaron explained about his relationship with Barry, or lack of one, "I had the pleasure of playing with his father, Bobby, who was a great athlete.

"I also would say that since I watched Barry play the last two or three years, I don't know of anyone who could turn a baseball game around like he can. But it's hard for me to talk about anything other than his baseball skills."

Which were spectacular. As were Henry Aaron's.

Art Spander has earned a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He can be reached at typoes@aol.com.