HANK AARON sent in his RSVP early.
He's not coming to the party.
Aaron promised Friday he "certainly will not be at a ballpark" when/if Barry Bonds eclipses his fabled home-run record of 755.
Has Hammerin' Hank got a better offer? Where will he be?
"Probably somewhere playing golf, or with my wife somewhere in Europe someplace," Aaron said on ESPN's "Cold Pizza."
This is your record, Hank. This is no time to be a party pooper.
Come, celebrate your magnificent milestone, bid it adieu and remind us of the incredible path you took to it.
Those golf courses aren't going anywhere. And surely you're aware that too many tourists swarm Europe in the summer.
Now, go ahead and skip out on all these rehearsal dinners leading up to the marriage of Bonds and the home-run title. But why not attend the eventual ceremony, be it in 40 games, 80 games or 160?
"I don't want to. I've been there," said Aaron, still understandably stung from the hate mail he received and the resentment people expressed during his record pursuit over 30 years ago. "I've done all those things. I don't want to get involved anymore."
You could always come with your close friend Bud Selig, baseball's cuddly commissioner who clicked "maybe" on his Evite two months ago regarding Bonds' bash.
No one would challenge your dignity for showing up, as your stature in the game is something Bonds will never surpass. But, you say, this isn't necessarily about Bonds?
"Whoever it is, I want them to have the sunshine," Aaron added. "Because if I'm anywhere around it, it takes the focus away from everything. People come talking to me, the interviews, etc. I don't want to be a part of it."
No, no, no. Give the interviews. Stand up for baseball. Use this as a platform to tell us what's right and wrong, how the game should be played, how ballplayers should treat their fans (and their drug-free bodies).
This party will be must-see TV.
This will be a where-were-you-then moment.
You don't need to be there to pass Bonds' some ceremonial torch. Willie Mays already did that in 2004.
We don't need the sappy photo-op of Bonds hugging you at your front-row seat after he rounds the bases.
Sit stoic in a luxury suite, if you prefer.
But, Hank, you know how glorious baseball can be. Show up and tell us what it was like to rack up 755 homers in the pre-steroids era.
Surely you recall passing Babe Ruth on April 8, 1974, and doing so without then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn in the stands. Kuhn was busy "honoring" a previous commitment to attend the Cleveland Indians' home opener, which was rained out.
A month later, you told the Milwaukee Sentinel: "If I were baseball commissioner, I would have seen Hank Aaron hit his 715th homer."
Hank, you and your record are bigger than today's commissioner, and you need to see Bonds hit No. 756. He's 20 away from catching you, so you've got time to hit those fairways and European cafes.
Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, who called the game where you passed Ruth on the all-time list, didn't seem too surprised when told Friday night about your vow to skip Bonds' record-breaking moment.
"It's a personal thing," Scully said, "plus there's the cloud of the steroid thing."
Yes, there is that.
Bonds will never escape "the steroid thing." It will pop up anytime the home-run record is discussed, even if catastrophe (some call it karma) strikes and keeps Bonds from the record.
You have not indicted Bonds or condemned him. Would you be endorsing his methods by showing up for your record's last hours? No, you'd be representing your record and the greater good.
"I have no idea what he's going through. I really don't," Aaron said of Bonds. "I've tried to stay out of anything having to do with this. Not because of resentment, but because so much is attached to it that I try to keep my distance from it."
Look, most of us have no idea what it's like to be interviewed by a grand jury, alternate between "the cream or the clear," be the subject of a best-selling book ("Game of Shadows") or have your dirty laundry soiled further in the court of public opinion.
But baseball fans won't be keeping their distance from Bonds' chase. Stadiums will not go empty. Eyes won't drift from the batter's box once Bonds steps into it.
He's not the sideshow to the 2007 season. He is the show.
Because of your record. Your No. 755.
You were the best at hitting balls out of the park. Come out to the yard one more time, at least for one more home run.
Contact Cam Inman at firstname.lastname@example.org.