COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Excited kids in baseball caps swarmed around the helmets from Barry Bonds' home run record at-bats that went on display here Friday, while other fans showed the same sort of ambivalence that has dogged the slugger's career.
The helmet Bonds wore when he hit homer No. 755 to tie Hank Aaron's record -- and the one he wore Tuesday as he hit record-breaking No. 756 -- debuted under glass at the Hall of Fame early Friday. Also displayed were plate umpire John Hirschbeck's ball-strike clicker, a score sheet from the game and a page from the San Francisco Chronicle featuring a picture of Bonds raising his arms in exultation under the headline "ALONE AT THE TOP."
"This is him!" said 13-year-old Matthew Somerville of Suffield, Conn., as he quickstepped toward the display. Then he started shooting and narrating a short video: "This is the helmet Barry Bonds wore when he hit home run No. 755 ..."
Somerville shrugged off the steroid controversy that has shadowed Bonds. Like a lot of fans who sought out the exhibit, the teen pitcher credited Bonds with being a great player.
"Whether he used steroids or not, it's a tremendous achievement," Somerville said as he stood before the glass. "It's incredible to be less than five feet away from history!"
Twelve-year-old Mike Errigo of Silver Spring, Md., smiled big for a picture with his dad in front of the adjacent picture of Bonds at the plate watching one sail away. He said he was going to tell his grandkids how he saw Bonds break the record on TV. Patricia Akin-Trexler of Dallas, Texas, and her new husband made a beeline to the Bonds exhibit and took time to savor it.
"It was a thrill, the height of the honeymoon -- oops!" she said with a laugh.
Other fans were less impressed. While no one said outright there should be an asterisk on the exhibit, a few Hall visitors questioned Bonds' accomplishment.
"It's always going to be under a shroud, I think, unless he comes clean," said Darrell Short of Warner Robins, Ga.
After looking at Aaron's display in another corner of the museum, Michael Laracuente of Newburgh, N.Y., remembered the pride he felt as a black teen when Aaron took the record in 1974. He said Bonds, with his abrasive public personality, inspires more indifferent feelings.
Over by the Babe Ruth exhibit, Bud Street said he had no interest in seeing the Bonds artifacts. Street still recalls the thrill of going to Fenway Park in Boston as an 11-year-old in 1934 and watching Ruth play (he struck out three times). The Barnstable, Mass., native thinks Bonds' career is too clouded to compare favorably with the other great sluggers in the Hall.
"It's a tough call," Street said, "but I think Ruth and Aaron are still ahead of him."
The Hall had received Bonds artifacts before this week, including spikes from when he became the first player with 400 homers and 400 stolen bases.
Bonds will not be eligible for consideration for the Hall of Fame until after he retires. A few fans on Friday insisted he should be a lock.
"It would be weird if he's the home run king but he's not in the Hall of Fame," Errigo said.