Twins' Hunter claims Bonds victim of racism

Updated: March 31, 2006, 4:40 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

With all the attention surrounding Barry Bonds, some are questioning why he's such a target.

In USA Today on Thursday, Minnesota Twins center fielder Torii Hunter claimed race plays a factor in how Bonds is being portrayed in the media and pursued by steroid allegations and investigations.

"It's so obvious what's going on," he told USA Today. "He has never failed a drug test and said he never took steroids, but everybody keeps trying to disgrace him. How come nobody even talks about Mark McGwire anymore? Or [Rafael] Palmeiro [who tested positive for steroids in 2005]?

"Whenever I go home [to Pine Bluff, Ark.], I hear people say all of the time, 'Baseball just doesn't like black people. Here's the greatest hitter in the game, and they're scrutinizing him like crazy.' It's killing me because you know it's about race," Hunter told USA Today.

Former pitcher Dave Stewart, currently a baseball agent, echoed those sentiments.

"People keep talking about how he's not supposed to keep hitting homers and doing phenomenal things because he's 40-plus," Stewart told USA Today. "Well, [seven-time Cy Young winner] Roger Clemens is 40-plus, too, and nobody ever brings his name up. Why not? Is it because one's black and the other is white?"

Leonard Moore, the director of African and African-American Studies at Louisiana State University, also disputed that other reasons, such as evidence of Bonds' alleged use of performance-enhancing substances and years of ungracious behavior to the media, played a role in his perceived targeting.

"White America doesn't want him to [pass] Babe Ruth and is doing everything they can to stop him," Moore told USA Today. "America hasn't had a white hope since the retirement of [NBA star] Larry Bird, and once Bonds passes Ruth, there's nothing that will make [Ruth] unique, and they're scared. And I'm scared for Bonds."

However, numerous people disagreed with the notion that the criticism of Bonds was motivated by racism. Bonds' own grand jury testimony linked him to steroid use, and other athletes embroiled in the scandal -- including New York Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi and former NFL player Bill Romanowski -- are white.

"Barry was my childhood hero growing up, and what he's going through I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy," Oakland Athletics third baseman Eric Chavez told USA Today. "But as far as this being race-related? I totally disagree. If Big Mac was playing, he'd be in the same boat. This is a case where if there is a beast, you chop the beast's head off. That happens to be Barry. I think we all want to see the end of the story. I want the right information."

Even Bonds' boss, San Francisco Giants managing partner Peter Magowan, doesn't think race is a motivating factor.

"I don't believe this is a case of racism," he told USA Today. "In fact, I think this shows how far we've come. If the media brought this up 20 years ago, they would have been considered racists."

However, Moore had a different view of the leaked grand jury testimony.

"To black America, this is just another example of the judicial system trying to railroad an African-American male," Moore told USA Today.

Regardless, several players and observers believe Bonds' years-long differences with the media play a part in his being a target.

"I'm a big believer in karma," San Diego Padres center fielder Mike Cameron told USA Today. "What goes around comes around. If you don't treat people right, things come back to bite you."

Harry Edwards, a former University of California-Berkeley sociology professor, also told USA Today that he believes Bonds' animosity toward the media are an issue.

"Barry has never really cultivated the media and cultured the media the way Magic Johnson did and Michael Jordan did or the way Tiger Woods has done," Edwards told the newspaper. "So he doesn't have the reserve of public relations capital to call upon.

"The same animosity and resentment that Hank Aaron suffered through when he broke Babe Ruth's record has been exacerbated because of the cloud of steroid suspicion," Edwards told USA Today. "This is a visceral response to a black man [passing] Babe Ruth."

A USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll of baseball fans shows mixed reaction to Bonds: Forty-nine percent believe Bonds should be inducted into the Hall of Fame, while 43 percent believe he shouldn't. Fifty-two percent believe that his records should be taken away if it's ever concluded he is guilty of taking performance-enhancing substances.

"People would breathe a deep sigh of relief if he didn't break Hank's record," Edwards told USA Today. "If he had the grace to step aside for Hank, I think it would get him into the Hall of Fame.

"It's sad to think that's what it would take because of all his accomplishments, but it's true," he said.