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February 11, 2014

Barry Bonds, Race, and Public Perception

Interpreting the Polls

by Lewie Pollis

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Lewie Pollis is a senior at Brown University and a former baseball analytics intern for the Cleveland Indians. He also writes for ESPN Insider. Follow him on Twitter @LewsOnFirst.

Two things can be said about Barry Bonds’ place in baseball history: He was one of the greatest players the game has ever seen, and he may have been the single most controversial player of all time. He earned the former title largely by setting MLB records with 73 home runs in 2001 and 762 in his career (as well as 166.8 WARP), while the latter distinction can be traced to his having done all that under the cloud of allegations that he used some cocktail of performance-enhancing drugs.

But a close look at public opinion polling suggests another partial explanation for why opinions of Bonds are so strong and divided: race. Not only do divisions of opinions on Bonds exist along racial lines—they do so just as some political science literature would predict.

The question of how race has impacted popular perceptions of Bonds is not a new one. By 2006, as Bonds was closing in on Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list, there was significant debate about whether Bonds’ generally negative public image stemmed from the color of his skin—as he claimed—and how much of it came from his PED use or treatment of the media. Even the guys at Fire Joe Morgan weighed in on the issue. Ken Tremendous claimed that Bonds “claimed racism everywhere he went for whatever reason if it suited his purposes,” while dak asked the provocative question: “Do you think he would have booed so vehemently if he had been white?”

Before we go further, allow me to say that discussions of race in academia are different than they are in the mainstream media or casual conversation. Political scientists in particular are very matter-of-fact about questions of race and the existence of racism. It is also worth emphasizing that the trends they describe for different demographics are generalizations and do not apply to every individual person within those groups.

There are three specific findings from political science research that I believe are important for contextualizing the numbers that will follow. (The works listed here are not necessarily the only writings on the subject. I use these as examples because they illustrate the points well. I would highly recommend reading them in full, as the full publications are far richer and more interesting than I can convey in a couple sentences.)

  • In Obama’s Race: The 2008 Election and the Dream of a Post-Racial America, Michael Tesler and David O. Sears argue that Barack Obama’s visibility during the 2008 campaign and beyond polarized voters along racial lines regarding not just Obama but any issue with which he was associated. If their model is correct, Bonds’ prominence throughout the 2000s would have primed fans to think about him (and perhaps the broader questions of PEDs and morality in baseball) through the lens of race. (Full disclosure: Tesler is my concentration advisor at Brown.)
  • We can infer from the survey data presented by Paul M. Sniderman et al. in Reasoning and Choice: Explorations in Political Psychology that manifestations of modern racism are heterogeneous across people’s conformances to social norms—i.e., that the difference between how a racist would see two upstanding citizens of different races is not the same as the difference between how he or she would see two criminals of different races. This means that the effect of race on public perceptions of Bonds would likely be different than it would for another, less-controversial black player.
  • In Race and the Formation of Attitudes: Responses to Hurricane Katrina, Lonna Rae Atkeson and Chiere D. Maestas find evidence that members of a demographic group are more supportive of one of their own if they feel the issue in question is divisive along demographic lines. This means black fans could be more supportive of Bonds if they inferred racial undertones in the criticism of him than they would be if race were a non-issue.

With that in mind, how could race have affected public opinion on Barry Bonds?

The trend can be seen first at the most basic level: personal favorability. In a Gallup/USA Today poll from February 2009, only 17 percent of self-identified white respondents expressed a favorable opinion on Bonds compared to 55 percent who viewed him unfavorably; other respondents (full racial breakdowns were not easily available for most of the polls I looked at) had a slightly positive view of him, 30-28. This difference is statistically significant, while no significant racial differences existed for Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, and Derek Jeter in the same poll. Other surveys reveal that this is a consistent trend. In a December 2004 Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll on whether celebrities (including Bonds) had been “naughty” or “nice” that year, whites broke for naughty by a nearly two-to-one margin (52-27) while other respondents were evenly divided (40-39)—another statistically significant difference.

When it came to allegations of drug use, whites were less likely to give Bonds the benefit of the doubt across the board. In an ABC News/ESPN poll in July 2006, a whopping 80 percent of white respondents thought he had probably used steroids against just 55 percent of other respondents. A 2004 Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll revealed that only 15 percent of white baseball fans believed Bonds on the issue of PED use, against 26 percent of other fans; five years later, in a 2009 Gallup/USA Today survey, only eight percent of white respondents said they believed that Bonds had taken steroids unknowingly while 22 percent of nonwhites were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. And white fans were also far more likely than other fans to think that Bonds was being treated fairly regarding the steroid allegations against him, both in a 2006 Associated Press/America Online poll (whites: 71-18, other respondents: 54-35) and in a 2007 Associated Press/Ipsos-Public Affairs poll (whites: 63-24, other respondents: 49-38). (All of the racial differences cited in this paragraph are statistically significant.)

How would we explain this in terms of the political science research? There are plenty of reasons besides race to dislike Bonds on a personal level or to think he used PEDs. But the statistically significant differences between how whites and other respondents see Bonds make sense in the context of Tesler and Sears’ research: as a highly visible black celebrity, he may have activated racial resentment among fans. If that is the case—a theory supported by the racial differences in perceptions of whether or not the media had been treating Bonds fairly—Atkeson and Maestas’ findings suggest that black respondents would support him out of solidarity, which could partly explain why he is seen in a positive light among nonwhites despite his reputation as a disagreeable person whom people of any race could dislike on a personal level.

Whites were also the harshest respondents in terms of how baseball should deal with Bonds. A March 2006 Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll revealed that most self-identified white fans did not think Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame (40-51) while a two-thirds majority of other fans endorsed him for Cooperstown (67-26); though the gap narrowed in both directions in a June 2007 Associated Press/Ipsos-Public Affairs poll (whites: 47-42, other fans: 59-31), a significant difference remained. More strikingly, a July 2006 ABC News/ESPN poll revealed that nearly half of whites (47-51) thought Major League Baseball should immediately suspend Bonds after he was charged with perjury—a position supported by less than a quarter of other respondents (23-73). (All of the racial differences cited in this paragraph are statistically significant.)

As Tesler and Sears observed with Obama, specifically naming Bonds adds a racial component to public opinion that is not otherwise there. In a February 2009 CBS News/New York Times poll of baseball fans, there was no significant difference between what whites and other respondents thought should be done with records set by steroid users. Yet when a July 2006 ABC News/ESPN poll specifically asked about Bonds’ records, less than a third (31 percent) of whites said they should remain on the books as normal, compared to more than half (56 percent) of other respondents. And while race did not significantly impact whether baseball fans thought players who used steroids before the game officially banned them in 2002 should be allowed into the Hall of Fame in an Associated Press/Ipsos-Public Affairs poll in April 2005, when Bonds was specifically named in an Associated Press/America Online poll a year later whites were evenly divided (48-48) while other fans supported him two-to-one (66-33).

The Hall of Fame question also allows us to directly test Bonds’ uniqueness in dividing fans along racial lines. A December 2006 Gallup/USA Today poll asked baseball fans about the Hall of Fame worthiness of nine candidates: Bonds, Mark McGwire, Cal Ripken Jr., Tony Gwynn, Jim Rice, Goose Gossage, Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro, and Sammy Sosa. Only Bonds registered a statistically significant difference between how white fans and other respondents viewed him. That Gwynn’s support was virtually identical across racial lines makes sense in light of the inferences to be drawn from Sniderman et al.’s research that the effects of racial resentment would be different for a universally well-respected black player than one who is already mired in controversy.

But perhaps the most interesting result is the response to the question of whether or not Bonds should be considered the legitimate home run king, given that he used PEDs to do it, or if Hank Aaron still held the record in the minds of those polled. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in June 2007 revealed that while a plurality of blacks thought Bonds deserved the honor (37-34), white respondents registered as almost four-to-one against (15-59). That such a dramatic racial difference exists is striking considering that Bonds and Aaron are both black. This fits with the implications of Sniderman et al.’s findings: that race matters differently in public opinion for someone who is already unlikable than it does for someone who is universally respected. It is also possible that this discrepancy can be explained by Tesler and Sears’ model of racial priming—Bonds has been in the public eye far more than Aaron in recent years, so his race is more easily accessible than Aaron’s—but given that the survey question specifically mentioned both of them it is not necessarily safe to assume that race is significantly more salient for Bonds than for Aaron.

Finally, we have a reasonable counterfactual for what public opinion on Bonds might look like if he were not black in Roger Clemens, another all-time great whose legacy has been tainted by PEDs (and who’s had an equally tough time gaining admittance to Cooperstown). According to the survey data, race has had no impact on perceptions of Clemens. There was no significant difference between what whites and other respondents thought of Clemens’ Hall of Fame candidacy or of him personally in a February 2009 Gallup/USA Today poll that found statistically significant racial gaps for Bonds, nor did race matter in a March 2008 CBS News poll on whether or not Clemens should be eligible for the Hall of Fame. What else could cause this phenomenon for Bonds but not Clemens if not Bonds’ race?

It should be noted that these numbers might be outdated. All the polls of interest that I could find were at least five years old, and things could have changed since then, especially as Bonds has been less in the public eye (leading to fewer opportunities to prime racial judgments) and the anger about his PED use may have started to subside (making him less unlikable for non-racial reasons). I would guess that race still influences opinions of Bonds today, though not to the extent that it did at the peak of the Bonds-related controversies.

It is impossible to precisely measure the impact of Bonds’ race on how the public perceives him, whether due to racial resentment from whites or supportive solidarity from blacks (and sympathetic fans of other races), and certainly there are reasons to dislike him on a personal level that have nothing to do with race. But as we begin to consider Bonds’ legacy, we should take caution to ensure that history’s judgments are not based on the color of his skin.

All survey data courtesy of the Roper Center Public Opinion Archives.

Lewie Pollis is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Lewie's other articles. You can contact Lewie by clicking here

Related Content:  Barry Bonds,  PEDs,  Race

54 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Peter Benedict

Thank you. Bonds' race is often either an elephant in the room, or an issue quickly dismissed one way or the other. I wish you had some time to do further original research around your closing hypotheses.

Feb 11, 2014 04:33 AM
rating: 7
 
winfieldscott

A very interesting article. My perception has been that Bonds has been treated more harshly by the PED era than any other player by fans, media, and baseball itself. The difference in perception between Bonds and someone like Tony Gwynn is fascinating. As a long-time Padre fan I loved Tony, but a number of PED signs are there: long-term body change, remarkable longevity, even overcoming late-career injuries to continue to play at a high level. This is not an accusation, but rather an outsider's observation. Yet Bonds is vilified while Gwynn is considered an exemplar. The impact of a disagreeable personality on the racial question is one I had not considered. Well done.

Feb 11, 2014 04:41 AM
rating: 3
 
wfarmer

As a long-time Padre fan and San Diego resident, I find your comments about Gwynn puzzling. His long-term body change was to get fat, which I don't think is the point of steroids. I don't remember any significant late-career injuries either but you can see that he didn't play in 150+ games a season since he was 29 and only played over 135 games in one season over his last 10 in the majors. I know you're not accusing him of anything but I'm not sure what kind of observation you're making either. Outside of a minor power bump (career high 17hr at age 37), I don't see anything to observe as PED friendly.

Feb 11, 2014 15:59 PM
rating: 3
 
OonBoon

I miss Fire Joe Morgan. That is all

Feb 11, 2014 06:53 AM
rating: 5
 
KaiserD2

I think the analysis in this article does tell us a lot about what is wrong with academia's views about race.

What is largely left out of the article--although, to be fair, not completely--is that Bonds has aroused great dislike for many reasons. Almost from the beginning of his career he has been obnoxious and given the impression of caring only about himself. That was also the way most teammates felt about him. This is another case where the parallel with Roger Clemens is most relevant--he never came across as a very appealing personality either, and indeed his on-field behavior was much worse than Bonds's. And guess what? A great many people have a negative opinion of him, even though he is white.

For the record, race did negatively impact Bonds at one key point. I lived in Pittsburgh through the 1980s and I am certain he was moved to left field to put Andy Van Slyke there because the Pirates preferred having a white player at the marquee position. That was also a mistake.

Now a second reason for the hostility to Bonds is that his use of PEDs was so obvious and had such obviously fantastic effects on his lifetime record. Yes, he already was established as one of the 20-30 best hitters of all time before he was 35, but subsequent to that he had four of the greatest seasons in history, something no one else has ever come close to doing. And that is how he broke the single-season and lifetime records for home runs. Anyone who cares about the integrity of the record book can't help but be rather upset about that. (The Tony Gwynn comparison, it seems to me, breaks down on this point. Gwynn remained good for a long time, but he didn't get better in his late thirties.)

Last but not least. . .it doesn't seem to occur to the author of the article that the data on opinions of Bonds could be interpreted the opposite way. That is, it might not show that white people dislike him more because he is black, it might show that minorities are more likely to give him a break and excuse many aspects of his behavior because he's black. (Probably it does show a little of both; the question is, how much of each?) Again--Roger Clemens is, literally, just as great a pitcher as Bonds is a hitter, that is, one of the top three, certainly, of all time. But he isn't doing significantly better with the BWAA. Jeff Bagwell, who the last time I looked was white, is also being hurt by PED suspicions even though there's no definite evidence that he ever used them. Etc.

David Kaiser

Feb 11, 2014 06:55 AM
rating: -1
 
edwardarthur

The author addresses the Roger Clemens parallel in the third to last paragraph, and this is part of what makes his analysis so cogent. While Hall of Fame voting has been quite similar for the two, the author points out that opinion poll data have been very different -- with Bonds' polling showing differing opinions along racial lines in a way that Clemens' does not. This seems like quite strong evidence that race is playing a significant role in public perception.

Feb 11, 2014 07:12 AM
rating: 5
 
Randy Brown
(189)

I agree that the Roger Clemens parallel is crucial to interpreting the racial undertones here, which is why it was so disappointing that precise poll numbers were not included in the article in the same manner that the Bonds poll numbers were presented. It looks like we were commenting in parallel here, and my thoughts on the matter are a little ways down.

I still don't know what to think one way or the other, and part of the reason is because information that I think is critical to understanding the Bonds/Clemens dynamic was not included with the article.

Feb 11, 2014 07:27 AM
rating: 1
 
therealn0d

Not just that, but there wasn't any mention of the composition of the survey sample in regards to knowledge of or level of interest in baseball. Bonds is famous in a non-baseball context in a way that, say, Gary Sheffield isn't. In addition, we don't have any information about how attitudes towards baseball rules and PEDs break down along racial lines in a general sense. Also, Bonds utter lack of contrition may play a role in how he is viewed within certain racial groups.

In fairness, the author did highly recommend reading the cited material in full, citing the difficulty in summarizing the findings within the brevity of this article.

Feb 11, 2014 07:20 AM
rating: -1
 
Lewie Pollis

You're mischaracterizing my argument. For the purposes of this article, I don't care what the prevailing public opinion about Bonds is. What matters is that public opinion on Bonds is heterogeneous across racial lines. I don't disagree that Bonds largely made his own bed in terms of his public image, but that doesn't explain the numbers I found here.

As for your suggestion of reverse causality: It is impossible to know for certain how much of the racial gap is racism and how much of it is solidarity, but it's generally accepted that the former effect is usually greater than the latter.

Feb 11, 2014 09:46 AM
rating: 3
 
therealn0d
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Wow, you might want to rethink the position you're taking here. Saying "I don't care" about an issue being raised and essentially saying "I've done all the work I'm going to do on this" won't reflect very well on you in the world out there when people paying you money start asking questions.

Feb 11, 2014 11:27 AM
rating: -14
 
Lewie Pollis

Please do not twist my words like that. The fact that race appears to be shaping public opinions on Bonds is interesting and important regardless of what his overall reputation is. The point is that race seems to be playing a role in the negativity towards Bonds, not whether or not there are other reasons to dislike him.

Feb 11, 2014 11:44 AM
rating: 3
 
therealn0d
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No, the point is that you are not offering any further analysis in response to questioning, only reasserting that the evidence you presented "seems" and "appears" to prove your point.

Feb 11, 2014 12:00 PM
rating: -14
 
Pat Folz

1)Don't be a dick.

2)He's clarified everything just fine and he's carefully not overstating the implications of the study, and that is exactly what you're supposed to do as a researcher. Providing a detailed summary/discussion of the established body of research, and doing substantial further analysis (such as sorting out the causality of the established difference, which is an incredibly complex issue that incidentally almost certainly cannot be done with the extant data), are things that cannot and should not be done in a comments section.

Feb 11, 2014 13:14 PM
rating: 13
 
jdeich

The core of the article is that white respondents view Bonds *differently* from other respondents, and that this gap is not present for other famous players of various races (citing Mark McGwire, Cal Ripken Jr., Tony Gwynn, Jim Rice, Goose Gossage, Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens). Bonds specifically produces a statistically-significant, racially-associated polarization across many polls.

You're oversimplifying this too far to "Bonds is unpopular." There are players who are popular among white and black fans (Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken Jr., etc), and there are players who are unpopular among white and black fans (Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, etc.). That's not very unexpected.

A more accurate simplification of Lewie's observation is "Bonds is unique in that he is unpopular with white respondents, yet semi-popular with other respondents."

Feb 11, 2014 09:50 AM
rating: 4
 
sykojohnny
(225)

As much as I respect Hank as a man filled with character, it is not a function of skin color. It is a function of first hand observation of Bonds and the unmistakable signs of PED use. Secondly, it is a function of how Aaron carried himself versus Bond's petulance. Not a function of skin color.

Feb 11, 2014 07:02 AM
rating: -2
 
Behemoth

"the effect of race on public perceptions of Bonds would likely be different than it would for another, less-controversial black player"

Feb 11, 2014 07:24 AM
rating: 7
 
Johnston
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I think this article is nonsense.

Bonds is intrinsically unlikeable, and is known to be a racist himself. He cheated his way to a huge salary and stole records that he did not earn using banned chemicals. He is a federal felon. He might as well have worn a mask while he did all of it.

The racial issue is a red herring. Baseball fans love Hank Aaron, the actual holder of the home run record ("Fans aren't stupid. Fans know that Hank Aaron is the all-time leading home run hitter." - Bert Blyleven). Baseball fans love Willie Mays, Bond's godfather, another former Giant outfielder. Both are black. Baseball fans hate Roger Clemens, another user of banned chemicals, who is white. There is zero racial correlation to be found there.

Bonds is hated for his behavior, for the bad things he did, and for the stain he put on baseball, and not for his race.

Feb 11, 2014 07:22 AM
rating: -14
 
Behemoth

Any facts or data to back up your rant? Or all the data presented in the article is irrelevant because you say so?

Feb 11, 2014 07:26 AM
rating: 12
 
misterjohnny
(925)
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the data presented, and reiterated in the comments above, is merely that blacks and whites view Bonds differently. Unfortunately, we don't get any analysis as to whether it is because Black fans are giving Bonds a pass for being a jerk or White fans are racist.
"It is impossible to know for certain how much of the racial gap is racism and how much of it is solidarity, but it's generally accepted that the former effect is usually greater than the latter."

His rant is as accurate as the author's speculation until presented with real facts on either side.

Feb 11, 2014 11:33 AM
rating: -6
 
Johnston
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It was full of facts. They happen to be facts that you don't like.

Calling a well-reasoned objection a "rant" is dismissive. You don't want to with the facts, so you down vote it and try to dismiss it.

It won't wash. Bonds is hated because of his behavior, not his race.

Feb 11, 2014 13:17 PM
rating: -12
 
Randy Brown
(189)

After reading an article, it's usually pretty easy for me to decide whether or not I find the information presented to be compelling or not. I've stared at this one for another 10 minutes and I'm still not sure about this one.

Early on in the article, as poll data was being presented about Bonds (with the numerical poll results included, this is a key point), I was continuously wondering to myself "I wonder what similar polls say about Clemens". Sure enough, the third paragraph from the bottom discusses Clemens...but discusses the poll results in general terms without showing the numerical poll results. I can't help but be bothered by this.

As David touched on, I'm curious whether the poll results indicate that whites are disproportionately likely to single out Bonds because of his PED use, if non-whites are disproportionately likely to give Bonds a free pass, or a combination of the two. Without presenting the Clemens poll numbers, this question is unknowable to the reader.

Now maybe the exclusion of the numerical poll results in the Clemens discussion is unintentional. Maybe the results aren't important, beyond the general conclusion. But omitting them, while including the specific numbers for Bonds, makes the cynic in me wonder if the author is leading me to a conclusion instead of allowing me to draw my own.

Feb 11, 2014 07:23 AM
rating: 8
 
Behemoth

The question as to why there is this discrepancy with Bonds is going to be really hard to answer for many reasons. Even comparing the results from Bonds and Clemens wouldb't tell us anything useful about why people view Bonds in the way they do, as we can't say that in a totally unbaised world they would necessarily have equal ratings - we might think we should, but we have no way of knowing. Also, it may well be more complex than one group is treating Bonds too harshly or too leniently. I would imagine, for example, that whites and non-whites don't consume the same media, and that such a difference is likely to be important. For example, I doubt Fox News is going to present Bonds' actions in a particularly favourable light, and I'd imagine that it has a disproportionately white audience.

Feb 11, 2014 07:37 AM
rating: 3
 
Lewie Pollis

That's a good point. It doesn't contradict the idea that race played a role in judging Bonds, though—it just shifts the source. If certain media outlets portrayed him more negatively because of his race, that's important information.

Feb 11, 2014 09:49 AM
rating: 1
 
Lewie Pollis

I did not include more detailed poll numbers about Clemens simply because I did not think they mattered besides their insignificance. (You'll notice I followed that rule throughout the article.)

I don't have the numbers handy (I had to calculate the racial breakdowns manually and I did not take note of the specific numbers if they were insignificant), but I believe for example that in one of the questions about Clemens' HOF candidacy he got the support of 40% of whites and 41% of other respondents. It didn't strike me as particularly important to report the specific figures when the gaps were that insignificant.

Feb 11, 2014 09:54 AM
rating: 0
 
jdeich

The gap is not the only measureable outcome. There would be a difference between what you found (~40%/40%) and either 80%/80% or 10%/10%. This would indicate that people of all races have a different view of the HOF candidacy of Clemens despite objectively comparable cases (all-time greats on-field, significant PED evidence off-field).

It could also more conclusively differentiates between "White respondents have a bias against Bonds" and "Respondents of other races have a bias for Bonds", which the Bonds-only data cannot address.

Feb 11, 2014 10:15 AM
rating: 1
 
Randy Brown
(189)

Thank you Lewie for taking the time to respond.

And I should clarify that I don't doubt that racial bias plays a part in shaping public opinion of Bonds. The more interesting question to me is whether the available evidence points toward whites judging Bonds more harshly than Clemens, or non-whites judging Bonds less harshly than Clemens. jdeich describes well the question I was attempting to ask.

Based on ~40 percent support for Clemens, it looks to me like the answer is "depends on which poll result you look at". Which, given the unscientific nature of the polling, shouldn't surprise me.

Feb 11, 2014 10:51 AM
rating: 4
 
Lewie Pollis

I see now, that makes sense. And yes, anecdotally speaking it seems like these kinds of polls are incredibly volatile depending on when they were taken, whether they asked everyone or just self-reported fans, the specific wording of the question, etc.

Feb 11, 2014 11:01 AM
rating: 0
 
touchstoneQu

What the specific numbers are for Clemens isn't relevant to the atricle's point -- and even if we knew, there's no conclusion you could draw from it. All we need to know is that race plays no significant part in how we view "unlikable" white celebrities -- that is we all dislike 'em at generally the same rate.

If you did have the specific Clemens numbers what could they tell you? You can't assume the difference in the level of support for Clemens' HoF case from Bonds' has anything to do with race. There are too many other factors. Bonds broke the game's biggest milestone, Clemens didn't. Bonds' PED usage kind of kicked off the PED anger. Heck, Bonds might be a bigger jerk than Clemens!

Feb 11, 2014 11:27 AM
rating: 0
 
TeamPineTar

Current Poll on CBS Sports website that has run for quite some time (I’m guessing about a month, since 2014 HoF selections were announced: “Who is least deserving of getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame?” (15,435 votes): Alex Rodriguez 32%, Barry Bonds 24%, Sammy Sosa 19%. OK, now here’s the rest of the list: Pete Rose 12%, Mark McGwire 8%, Roger Clemens 6%.

Now what is the only trait the first three share…and the only trait the last three share? Racism is still a virulent, omnipresent fact of American life.

Many of the comments above equate Clemens and Bonds on personality and the effects of a bad one, but it sure doesn’t look like that’s the case here…Bonds with 400% more unfavorables than Clemens. Sosa 2 ½ times as unfavorable as McGwire. Even Rose (my vote) just a fraction of the African Americans despite his much greater offense!

Feb 11, 2014 09:18 AM
rating: 7
 
Richie

I'll buy your premise, tho' not your accompanying sermon. I will point out that self-selected polls of this type have very little analytical value.

But yes, I do find it somewhat telling regarding the 3 black/3 white guys. 3 biases tho: ARod is far more current than Rose, McGwire finally came clean where Sosa never has, and Bonds well before steroids was known within all layers of baseball (anyone who has ever known a clubhouse attendant has heard so many horrible stories about Bonds) as an inner-circle Hall of Fame level horse's heinie - the Babe Ruth/Michael Jordan/Wayne Gretzky of buttholes, if you will - where Clemens was more just your regular level jerk.

But yes, I concede your general point.

Feb 11, 2014 09:40 AM
rating: 0
 
Lewie Pollis

I wouldn't put too much stock into an unscientific poll, but you're right that those results seem telling. That Bonds has quadruple Clemens' votes is particularly striking. What's the dramatic tipping point if you're deciding between those two?

Feb 11, 2014 09:58 AM
rating: 2
 
Johnston
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Clemens is not a federal felon, for one thing.

Feb 11, 2014 13:33 PM
rating: -7
 
Richie

Members of 'out' groups - which includes most of us, when you factor in how very many ways we group ourselves together (and thus apart) and also the emergence of a 'more persecuted than thou!' ethos over the last 50 years - absolutely circle the wagons around one of their 'own' when she/he is under accusation. Republicans and D'nesh D'Souza, Democrats and Bill Clinton, Christians and Tim Tebow, gays and their Portland mayor a few years back, and on and on and on. If whites disapprove of Clemens in like number to their disapproval of Bonds, that would be a good indicator that the racial discrepancy re Bonds is solidly with minorities defending one of their 'own'.

Feb 11, 2014 09:30 AM
rating: 1
 
Behemoth

That's based on the assumption that Bonds and Clemens have behaved equally badly, and that there are no other relevant differences. Bonds's personality and how it's perceived is likely one such factor that makes drawing comparisons between Bonds and Clemens fairly meaningless.

Feb 11, 2014 11:04 AM
rating: 0
 
Johnston

That's a perfectly valid theory that doesn't contradict any known facts.

Feb 11, 2014 13:32 PM
rating: -1
 
rweiler

Bonds was a HoF lock, black, a PED user, and wasn't cooperative with reporters, and it's the lack of cooperation in creating an 'image' that causes the extra dislike for Bonds. Anybody that things that race isn't a factor has their head in the sand.

Feb 11, 2014 09:31 AM
rating: 6
 
Johnston
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I don't have my head in the sand and I don't think that race was a significant factor. Do some investigation into Bonds' behavior and you'll find an unlikeable inconsiderate egotistical racist cheat. What race he may be us not an issue. Again, why is Hank Aaron so popular while Bonds is so unpopular? It obviously can't be race, so it has to be behavior.

Feb 11, 2014 13:26 PM
rating: -9
 
Behemoth

Why are there differences in people's views of Bonds when you split out the responses by the racial group of the respondent? That's the whole point of the article, and the one which you appear to be missing repeatedly.

Feb 11, 2014 15:00 PM
rating: 9
 
godfather

much ado about the obvious

Feb 11, 2014 09:49 AM
rating: -2
 
jb13

While it's not surprising that race affects the perception of Bonds, I still find it useful to support any common hypothesis with actual data, rather than accepting it as fact. Thanks, Lewis, and thanks to BP as well.

Feb 11, 2014 20:52 PM
rating: 1
 
kcshankd

Great article, thanks.

Feb 11, 2014 09:51 AM
rating: 0
 
phreaks619

I think it would be interesting to take the PED's out of the equation and do the same kind of research on a player like Dick Allen.

Granted if the poll data does exist it was a different time, but still curious.

Feb 11, 2014 09:51 AM
rating: 1
 
Lewie Pollis

There isn't the same level of data available, but it is worth noting that in the 12/06 poll about potential HOF candidates, Bonds had a large racial gap but Tony Gwynn did not.

Feb 11, 2014 10:59 AM
rating: 1
 
phreaks619

True, but Dick Allen was never really liked by the media while Tony Gwynn was loved by everyone.

Feb 12, 2014 09:33 AM
rating: 0
 
misterjohnny
(925)

One more point about Clemens vs Bonds. Bonds is still liked in SF and Pittsburgh for his contributions to the local teams. Clemens is still liked in Boston and NY for the same reasons. (liked being a relative thing)

So any non-scientific ESPN poll is going to show a large market bias to Clemens vs Bonds.

Feb 11, 2014 11:36 AM
rating: 1
 
TGT969

I watched him in Pittsburgh for all of his years here. I could barely believe
a ballplayer as good as him was our property. It had been awhile since Dave Parker had gone. He amazed every fan here. There is no doubt however he
was a jerk. He had upset teammates, his own manager (who defended him
though out his playoff debacle), and the fans, who he just didn't care about.
As any Steeler fan can, Pittsburghers don't see color as long as you do the job
on the field or off.

Feb 11, 2014 11:45 AM
rating: 0
 
Johnston

Which is as it should be.

Feb 11, 2014 13:28 PM
rating: -3
 
garciamckinley

Thanks for the article. A great complement to this would be an analysis of the way Barry Bonds was characterized in various presses over the last several years of his career until today. Some of the comments mention supposedly other reasons that Bonds is disliked--he is "obnoxious," or he didn't "carry himself" well. These are also racially coded. When a minority isn't cooperative with the press, for example, it is frequently cast as not "knowing one's role." The fact of the matter is, people of color are held up to different standards and more scrutiny. We only have to go back to last summer and the persistent commentary about Yasiel Puig and his dedication, talent, and smarts to realize that this is still a part of our society and the complicated game we love.

Feb 11, 2014 14:01 PM
rating: 5
 
therealn0d
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You can't effectively state, "these are the facts" without providing, you know, actual facts. Unless you have something to back your statements up with, they are nonsense, and offensive.

Feb 11, 2014 15:40 PM
rating: -8
 
garciamckinley

I don't see how what I wrote is offensive, or even controversial. My point is that the language surrounding Barry Bonds isn't racially neutral. As far evidence as to the claim that athletes of color are held up to different standards by the media, one only has to think about how different the reception of Richard Sherman would be if he were white.

Feb 11, 2014 16:18 PM
rating: 7
 
therealn0d

Thanks for the fine example of Truthiness. One only has to think about it, One needs no further proof.

Feb 12, 2014 12:35 PM
rating: -2
 
R.A.Wagman

It is amazing how defensive some people become when a subject like racism comes up. I would say that it is a sign of a great article - and it is very good - but I fear it is more a lack of reading comprehension on the parts of some coupled with almost paranoid reflexive defensiveness.

Feb 11, 2014 19:22 PM
rating: 9
 
therealn0d

Allow me to sum up my position with a parallel from my favorite television show of all time: Seinfeld.

Jerry: I think Tim Whatley has converted to Judaism purely for the jokes.

Priest: And this offends you as a Jewish person?

Jerry: No, it offends me as a comedian!

This isn't about race, it's ahout interpreting data.

Feb 12, 2014 12:25 PM
rating: -1
 
R.A.Wagman

Would you have been so adamant if this discussion were about public acceptance of OBP vs BA?

Feb 12, 2014 15:56 PM
rating: 0
 
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