COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Hall of Famers Phil Niekro and Cal Ripken Jr. made a 45-minute drive east across two-lane country roads to Cobleskill-Richmondville High School on Friday for a talk with kids from seven area schools gathered in a jam-packed 720-seat auditorium.
The topic was the four points of the National Baseball Hall of Fame's BASE (Be a Superior Example) program: fitness, nutrition, character and fair play.
The two former players talked life, family, goals and achievements. But about a half-hour into the program, moderated by HOF vice president Brad Horn, the subject turned to third base -- character -- and the Iron Man, who played in a record 2,632 consecutive games over 17 seasons, got to the heart of the matter.
"Character is simply who you are," Ripken told the group, which also included faculty and staff. "You shape your character by what you do each and every day. You make choices and you make decisions. If you stand up for what's right and wrong for yourself, if you stand up for what's right and wrong for others, then you start to develop a different sort of character. That will earn you the respect of everyone around you."
Ripken's remarks on the subject went on from there.
"I will say, the guys who have done steroids and [other PEDs], they probably didn't think it was a bad choice when they did it," he said. "It worked and they had some success as a result of it. But I guarantee, after going through some of the things that they've gone through, they all look back and they regret that choice because now they're not looked upon as having accomplished anything. They had help and they did something else. And at the end of the day, all you have is to look at yourself in the mirror and say you've done your job and you've lived your life a certain way."
Through the BASE program, the HOF is teaming with the Professional Baseball Trainers Society and the Taylor Hooton Foundation to build awareness about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in society at large and specifically sports. This fall, the three organizations are commissioning a national survey to measure awareness of the use of steroids, particularly among young people.
"If you want to be a big league player, if you want to be bigger, stronger, faster, then that's the choice that you can make," Ripken said of PEDs. "But that's the wrong choice to make. We don't know what the long-term effect is on your body. Maybe in a hundred years medical science will continue to evolve and we'll have a different choice, but right now, that sort of choice will get you in nothing but trouble. It might seem to trick the system for a while, but it always catches up with you."
Horn asked Niekro and Ripken directly what they thought PEDs could do for players. Niekro retired in 1987 and Ripken left the game in 2001, two years before survey testing for PEDs began on the Major League level.
Niekro said he recalled being a young pitcher with the Braves when he was invited into the hotel room of some fellow teammates where he suspected that recreational drugs might be available.
"I knew it was marijuana. I knew that's what it was," recalled the 75-year-old former knuckleballer. "I didn't know what to do, so I stopped and thought, 'I think I'll call my dad and ask him what I should do.' I knew what he was going to say. 'OK, I'll call my mom.' I knew what she was going to say. 'I'll call my sister.' I know what she's going to say. So it wasn't that hard for me to decide not to go into that room.
"All I know is that none of it is good for your body. I wouldn't put them in there because it's not good for my body."
Ripken, 53, continued on a similar theme.
"It's interesting, when it comes to steroids sometimes I'm confronted by some really small kids." he said. "They ask me the same question because it's in the news all the time. … They ask me, 'Is steroids a good thing or a bad thing?' And it really perplexes me until I realize that they're trying to make up their minds.
"And then I turn it around on them and ask, 'What do you think? What's your take?' I really want to know what's trickling down. And I'll tell you, 99 percent of the kids say it's wrong. I feel really, really good about that because if you make a determination that it's wrong, that's a [significant] decision in your life."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.