Here, in the No Barry Zone, steroids are unimaginable and controversy nonexistent. Here, we choose to recognize only that which is good.
"I really don't care about Barry Bonds hitting 755 this weekend," Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton said. "I'm here for the Hall of Fame."
Listening to a couple of speeches from retired players might not sound as sexy as watching a 400-foot homer into the bay, but I guarantee you'll find more meaning and more passion. You'll learn more about the essence of the game from Ripken's and Gwynn's words than you ever will from Bonds' bat.
This convergence of story lines is hardly by design. In fact, it'd be a shame if the home run chase in any way overshadowed today's induction ceremony. A day like this one should be a celebration of baseball and of players. Circumstances, unfortunately, have cast the day as something much different - a tug of war pitting good against evil, two different stages, opposite sides of the country.
In this corner ... hailing from San Francisco, the one man who's shouldering all of baseball's ills, wearing a target sized perfectly for the endless suspicions and accusations cast his way.
And in this corner ... in tiny Cooperstown, two classy gentlemen - model athletes about whom only hyperbole is ever uttered - players who stand for fundamentals, loyalty and work ethic.
But in Cooperstown, they'd just as soon ignore that other corner, which makes sense - who wants to spoil the party?
"We're at the Hall of Fame," Johnny Bench said yesterday, trying to quickly move past a Bonds question. "He's going to break it, and then Alex [Rodriguez] is going to break his, and then ... "
Yesterday, before the final news conference before today's induction ceremony, members of the media were instructed to avoid questioning either Ripken or Gwynn about non-Hall of Fame issues.
In fact, you get the sense that most here would prefer to hear nothing about Bonds' chase - not because they're not interested, but because they know Ripken and Gwynn rightfully earned this weekend. And because many are still wrestling with their feelings on the subject.
The Hall of Famers here who were willing to discuss Bonds didn't condemn his chase, and many said they're actively rooting for him.
"Sure, I'm going to celebrate it," Lou Brock said. "And until he's proven guilty, I have no other reason [not to]."
Hall of Famers share a strong sense of respect for the game, but there's nothing resembling a consensus when it comes to Bonds, Jim Palmer said.
"Until you prove somebody cheated, he's innocent, and I guess that is the way here, but ... " Palmer said, pausing to laugh. "I think any of us around the game know something happened, or something went on. We don't really know what it is, and we may not."
Here's something that the game's best do agree on (and no, it's not really a surprise): Ripken and Gwynn are more than worthy of joining their ranks. "They played the game the right way," more than one Hall of Famer said, which makes today's inductees a gauge by which others will be judged. And when we keep that in mind, the contextual relationship of the day's story lines looks a bit different.
If Bonds manages to beat Aaron's home run mark, we'll be forced to recognize a different name and a new number. But make no mistake: Baseball's celebration is in Cooperstown. If Bonds blasts No. 755 or No. 756 today, we won't finally understand what kind of ballplayer Bonds is, but we might look to upstate New York and realize what kind of ballplayer he isn't.
He isn't like Ripken, and he isn't like Gwynn. Theirs is a rare breed.
"I can't think of any two players who are more deserving," Harmon Killebrew said.
Sure, baseball is a game in which we celebrate numbers, but we also celebrate those who do it "the right way." The Hall of Fame Class of 2007 can lay claim to both.
There won't be another induction pairing like Ripken and Gwynn at any point in the near future. Men who played for one team and represented one city. Model players who frustrated pitchers and set records. Students of the game who retired and then kept giving back to the game.
Barry Bonds can do whatever he wants, and no one here will flinch. After all, his fiction-like feats can't take away from Ripken's and Gwynn's special day. If anything, it gives us reason to pause, compare and shower even more admiration on the newest members of baseball's Hall of Fame.