Racial issues hover over the chase
We keep trying to envision the scene when the Greatest Record in Sports goes tumbling down.
We keep trying to envision all the emotions Barry Bonds will unleash as he makes that historic tour of the bases.
We knew this moment would be complicated. Awkward. Uncomfortable. But until we saw the results of this ESPN/ABC News poll, we hadn't fully digested just how complicated, how awkward, how uncomfortable.
We knew most fans didn't like this man, wouldn't root for this man, wouldn't cheer for this man on what should be the most joyous occasion of his career.
But would you have known, from the way this issue has been portrayed by all of us in the media biz, that the percentage of fans who wish this moment wasn't happening would be only 52 percent?
Would you have guessed that three fans out of every eight actually want Barry Bonds to break this record?
If those percentages are accurate, many of us have misread the mood of the nation on this. And in more ways than one.
Until now, we haven't spent much time talking about the racial issues that hover over this man and this event. But this poll tells us we need to do more of that, too.
Look at these numbers. The poll says 74 percent of black fans want Bonds to break this record. And nearly half of all black fans think Bonds has been given a raw deal. And a quarter of those fans think that raw deal is all about race -- not steroids or anything else.
We're not so sure they're right in attributing the alleged mistreatment of this particular historical figure to racially charged motives. But for nearly all white fans who think Bonds has been treated unfairly to say race has nothing to do with it is stunning. We say to those fans: You're kidding yourselves if that's what you truly think.
We hear all the time from African-American readers who are outraged over the coverage of Bonds and his pursuit of history. We don't agree with all of their complaints. But we know, from those e-mails, that their passion is real, and often raw.
All of us need to keep that in mind as we chronicle this story, wherever it leads.
Even many years down the road, when -- or if -- it leads to Cooperstown.
We'd bet most Hall voters think it's the will of the citizens that they should rise up to keep Barry Bonds out of the Hall of Fame. But those voters had better look again at these poll results.
If 58 percent of all fans, and 53 percent of white fans, and 85 percent -- yes, 85 -- of black fans think Bonds should be elected to the Hall, then the voters who vote against him someday may have to reexamine their belief that theirs is an overwhelmingly popular stand to take.
If you look carefully at these poll numbers, they tell you just how conflicted America truly is about what's going to unfold.
When that day finally comes, one of these weeks, and Barry Bonds is out there making the trot of a lifetime, it clearly won't be the euphoric moment we all once would have imagined it would be if someone ever broke Hank Aaron's record.
If 73 percent of these fans think Barry Bonds used steroids -- but 58 percent still want him in the Hall of Fame, and just 52 percent are openly rooting against him -- it tells you something.
It tells you it isn't as simple as we often assume it is to connect the dots between cause and effect. Between "cheating" and shame. Between the suspicions people may have about Bonds and the way those suspicions have colored their appreciation of how great a baseball player he has been for the last 22 years.
So when that day finally comes, one of these weeks, and Barry Bonds is out there making the trot of a lifetime, it clearly won't be the euphoric moment we all once would have imagined it would be if someone ever broke Hank Aaron's record.
But we have a greater feel now for all of the powerful elements that will collide when that historic baseball takes its fateful ride through the sky. And they won't be colliding quite the way most of us suspected before these poll results knocked on the door to our brains.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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