To be completely upfront, we took high school statistics, so we probably understand how to read a poll a bit better than you do. That having been said, in the case of Barry Bonds, there are a few undeniable certainties. Barry is a jerk, Barry has been hitting home runs for a long time, and Barry's head has grown since joining the Giants.
There is also a heavy, unproven suspicion of serious steroid abuse by Bonds over the last decade or so. We believe that Bonds probably knowingly used steroids, but we admit that there is no direct proof at present. Aside from an admission from Bonds, it seems unlikely that direct proof of steroid abuse will be possible.
A recently released ABC News poll concluded that a majority of Americans don't want Barry Bonds to break the home run record. That doesn't surprise us in the least. The poll revealed that 52% of people identifying themselves as "baseball fans" are cheering against Bonds. Moreover, only 37% of baseball fans are cheering for Bonds to succeed.
The poll also examines the role of race on the Barry Bonds issue. According to the poll, 39% of white people and 26% of black people identify themselves as baseball fans.
Which brings us to Jayson Stark. We generally like reading Jayson Stark, but his recent piece attempting to dissect the meaning of this poll was lacking to say the least.
Stark starts off saying that "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." He asks "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?"
On the racial issue, Stark writes that "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."
The career home run record is arguably the biggest record in all of sports. Jayson Stark is questioning the media's portrayal of America being firmly anti-Bonds. Of course, Jayson doesn't mention that Hank Aaron had 77% of Americans cheering for him to break Babe Ruth's record in 1974. Is it not a pretty big story that 40% fewer Americans are cheering for Bonds to break the home run record than Aaron? Are a majority of Americans not openly rooting against this record to be broken whereas 30 years ago only a quarter of Americans opposed it?
Jayson mentions that many fans think Bonds has been treated unfairly, but he fails to mention that overall only 10% attribute this to race. While a quarter of black baseball fans who think Bonds has been treated unfairly believe it is because of race, 62% believe it is either because of the steroids or because Barry is a jerk. Overall, fans who don't believe Bonds took steroids are three times more likely to believe he has been treated unfairly, a figure which makes a lot of sense. If somehow it is proven that Bonds didn't take steroids, we would agree that he has probably been treated unfairly. It is no surprise that those who don't think he took steroids today feel like he is getting a raw deal.
Finally, there is the issue of the media's portrayal. Stark argues that ONLY 52% of America is openly against Bonds, and about 35% WANT Bonds to break the record. Is the media really portraying America v. Bonds inaccurately? Attaching no political subtext, we point to an April 22nd Pew poll relating to President Bush's approval rating. This poll suggests that Bush and Bonds share roughly the same approval ratings.
According to the Pew poll, 35% of Americans approve of the President and 57% of Americans disapprove of his job performance. Should the media focus on the fact that President Bush has a core group of supporters or that his disapproval rating is nearing dangerous levels? Should the media be portraying Americans as "conflicted" in their support for Bush? Would it be accurate to say that only 57% of Americans think Bush isn't doing a great job and almost two-fifths think the Prez is doing a good job? Is suggesting that at present most Americans disapprove of both Bonds and Bush an example of misreading the mood of the nation on this? We wouldn't argue that America is conflicted on either Bonds or Bush (again, no political agenda here, just using similar poll numbers).
Stark concludes that "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." If that isn't a load of crap, we don't know what is. But, hey, only 94% of Americans believe we landed on the Moon. If we ever do land on the moon for real, knowing that 6% of Americans never believed the lies should give us a better feel for all of the powerful elements that will collide.