Well, until the Clemens signing dwarfed all other weekend baseball headlines, the "scientific polling" about Barry Bonds that raised interesting questions about race, drugs, and record breaking was about as juicy as it gets. Juicy. Get it?
What's almost more interesting to me than the actual results of the ABC/ESPN polling is how surprised the media seems to be--or how surprised the media seems to think we should be--that race is a significant aspect of the whole Bonds saga. Although I generally detest Joe Morgan, I have to say he was pretty much on target when he matter-of-factly said something on the Sunday Night Baseball broadcast to the effect of, "Well, when you have questions surrounding black athletes in sports, it's no surprise that there will always be a racial divide over how people perceive that athlete." Now, I don't know about always, Joe, because I like to fancy myself an optimist sometimes and I prefer to avoid words like "always" and "never" (although my fiancee would probably beg to disagree--apparently I have a habit of saying things like "You never unload the dishwasher." What can I say, sometimes always and never are warranted.), but you're right on target with how unsurprising these results should be.
Maybe the surprise has something to do with this poll following so closely on the heels of the self-congratulatory Jackie Robinson festivities a few weeks ago in which it seemed like all was right with baseball racially ("look how far we've come, look what progress we've made!" was the storyline). Sure, the Jackie Robinson celebrations and observations initiated serious conversations about the dwindling African American presence in baseball--but (1) figuring out how to get black kids interested in baseball and (2) figuring out how to deal with what appears to be a quite wide racial divide over a controversial black athlete that perhaps reveals an even deeper and broader racial gap in the sport are two drastically different things.
You want black kids to get involved in youth baseball, Bud? Well, first get your ass in gear and throw some money to some urban initiatives. But maybe you should also man up, make a statement, and be in the freaking ballpark when Barry Bonds--who, aside from being a steroid-using athlete, is also a black athlete--breaks Hank Aaron's record. You think the black fans--adults and kids alike--buy your bullshit line to the effect of "Hey, I wasn't there for Clemens' 300th win, why should I be there for Barry's 756th homer?" (First: 300 wins? Please. 22 pitchers have 300 wins. One man has 755 homers. If Roger Clemens broke Cy Young's wins record, you'd sure as hell be there, asshole). Maybe blacks believe that argument as much as when cops try to tell them that they're not targeted for traffic stops. If they (rightly) see themselves as being guilty of driving while black, how do they not see Barry as guilty of breaking records while black?
What do we learn from this whole mess? Well, maybe a thing or two about how little America has progressed on racial issues... but this is a sports blog, not an academic blog. I deal with these issues too much on a daily basis to want to address them here. So, as far as baseball goes, primarily we get further confirmation that Bud Selig is a colossal fuck-up that seems to compound one fuck-up with another.
He fucked up the 1994 season (and, as a White Sox fan, that one particularly stung). He fucked up (and continues to fuck up) the whole steroids mess by turning a blind eye to Sosa and McGwire because their homers were "good for baseball" coming back from the strike. He fucked up the All-Star game. He's fucking up the salary cap and revenue sharing. And now he's fucking up the celebration of one of baseball's truly special record chases in part because he's already fucked up the steroids issue.
Should Barry have done steroids? Probably not. But should the pitchers he was hitting against (I'm looking at you, Rocket) have done steroids? Probably not. But if it's not against the rules, it's not cheating. And that's what we've got to work with. Sosa and McGwire broke the single-season record on the juice and baseball loved it. Bonds broke those records and baseball loved it a little less. Now Bonds is closing in on an even bigger record, and Bud wants baseball to love it hardly at all, wants to scapegoat Barry for this whole mess that he doesn't have the balls to fix himself. Well screw you, Bud. I'm rooting for Barry.