Nothing black and white about latest Bonds debate
By TIM DAHLBERG
AP Sports Columnist
(AP) - The kid who caught home run No. 714 off the bat of Barry Bonds a year ago scurried out of Oakland's stadium with his valuable souvenir without bothering to see what Bonds might want to offer for it.
Before he left, Tyler Snyder had just one thing to say:
"I hate that guy," Snyder said.
The kid, of course, is not alone. When Bonds was on the verge of passing Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list, he was booed in Milwaukee, mocked in Philadelphia and jeered in Houston.
And hate might be too nice of a word for the reaction he gets every time he sets foot in left field at Dodger Stadium.
So it wasn't much of a surprise to see a new poll that basically confirms what other polls have shown in recent years. According to the latest survey, baseball fans in general believe Bonds took steroids, think he cheated the game and don't want to see him break Henry Aaron's record.
Walk into any ballpark outside the Bay Area and you'll hear much the same thing. Away from AT&T Park, Bonds is viewed mostly as a pariah, someone who has tainted the game and made its most sacred statistics seem meaningless.
There's little doubt now that he'll pass Aaron, sometime next month at his current pace, and become the greatest home run hitter ever. But that will do little to endear him to the majority of baseball fans who despise both his arrogance and the things he might have done to help himself along the way.
According to the ABC News/ESPN poll, three out of four baseball fans believe Bonds knowingly used steroids, despite his reported claims to a federal grand jury that he thought the "clear" and the "cream" were flaxseed oil. Fans as a whole also believe he's a cheater, even if baseball wasn't testing for steroids at the time he hit so many of his home runs.
And 52 percent of them say they are rooting against him breaking Aaron's record of 755 home runs, while just 37 percent say they are pulling for him to become the home run king.
There's not much new there. Only one in three fans in an Associated Press poll last year said they wanted Bonds to break the record, and half said they had an unfavorable opinion of him.
What is new is that the latest poll suggests that black baseball fans are far more inclined to root for Bonds than white fans. While just 28 percent of whites say they want Bonds to break Aaron's record, three out of four black fans are rooting for him to do it.
Now, I'm not a sociologist, so I can only guess at the reasons Bonds still has credibility among black fans while he has little among whites. I do know that a similar sort of division existed in polls taken a little more than a decade ago about the guilt or innocence of O.J. Simpson.
Don't forget that Bonds has been known to use the race card himself, as he did last year when he blamed some of his problems on the fact he was chasing a white legend at the time in Ruth.
"Because Babe Ruth is one of the greatest baseball players ever, and Babe Ruth ain't black, either," Bonds said. "I'm black. Blacks, we go through a little more. … I'm not a racist though, but I live in the real world. I'm fine with that."
I'm fine with black fans supporting Bonds, too, just as I'm fine with white fans rooting him on. Actually, I've gotten past the point of even caring about Aaron's record because it doesn't seem Major League Baseball cares much about what the use of steroids has done to the sport.
But I don't believe the reasons Bonds is disliked by so many white fans has much, if anything at all, to do with race. I'd like to believe that this is 2007, not 1957, when Aaron was already a star and yet he and other blacks were forced to endure the terrible indignities of segregation in spring training.
Today, the most revered and celebrated basketball player of his time is black. The best golfer of any time is black, and when he's not playing, millions of white fans turn off their televisions because they don't want to watch without him.
Yes, Aaron received death threats and hate mail from bigots when he was chasing Ruth's record. But that was 33 years ago, and a Harris poll at the time found 77 percent of sports fans rooting for him to break a record set by a mythical - and very white - figure.
People liked Henry Aaron. They still do.
Bonds, by contrast, wasn't a popular player even before his body grew large, his head ballooned to cartoonish size and his home runs started splashing with increasing regularity in McCovey Cove. From the beginning of his career, he treated fans and the media with contempt, and they responded with growing contempt for him.
The poll numbers are interesting in a number of ways, and debatable in even more. People will make what they want out of them on both sides of the fence.
Not open to debate, though, is that Bonds will soon pass Aaron and stand alone with the biggest number of all.
There's nothing black and white about that.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at email@example.com