Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Barry Bonds vs. Roger Clemens in the Public Eye

In the case of Barry Bonds, many analysts have commented on the probability of racism being a major factor in how Bonds has been perceived in these last few years. While I generally agree with such arguments (and even if I don't, they are important for forcing the issue), I wasn't so sure about Bonds. To me, he has always come off as a jerk (or at least since the 1994 strike when he complained about how was he supposed to pay child support while on strike? - um, Barry, you were already a millionaire baseball player, not a coal miner). Sure, most of his teammates swore by him, and that's fine - they knew him far better than I, obviously. But Bonds never seemed to be a particularly sympathetic or gracious character in public, and so I figured that, more than racism, factored into popular opinion on him. (This all may not seem like a revelation, but bear with me here.)

However, given a recent poll on whether Clemens should go into the Hall of Fame, I guess I'm forced to reconsider my stance. Maybe I'm just out of touch with your "average-Joe" baseball fan (I've been outside of the U.S. for the last 17 months, for example), but I have long thought that Roger Clemens was the epitome of sports jerk - arrogant to a fault, loud and abrasive, confrontational, reactionary, and unable to accept that he wasn't perfect (Clemens' fastball, Mike Piazza's head; Mike Piazza's head, Clemens' fastball), and I imagined that his performance before Congress (throwing everybody under the bus to escape responsibility, for example) would probably negatively affect how people viewed those Hall of Fame Chances.

Yet, in that recent poll, despite the fact that 62 percent believe he was lying, 62 percent also think he still belongs in the Hall of Fame, while only 46 percent also believe Bonds belongs there. Again, maybe my perception is skewed, yet to me, we're dealing with two men who almost certainly committed perjury, used steroids to gain an advantage, and both still belong in the Hall of Fame (if anywhere near as many players used steroids in the 90s as is claimed by reasoned analysts and ex-players, I think it's safe to say lots of players were at an "elevated level", yet these two guys still dominated those already-roided players).

But a 16% difference in support between the white guy and the African-American? Over a majority supporting the white guy, and less than a majority support the African-American, when both have made it patently clear that, if nothing else, they are major assholes? How else can one explain this other than racism affecting Bonds? Sure, pitchers have always gotten a "oh, that's just pitchers being pitchers" attitude where hitters faced a "What? CHEATING? HOW COULD YOU, YOU BASTARD?" attitude (just see the loveability and nostalgia of the spitball vs. corked bats). But I don't think this enters into the equation here. I always thought analysts who said Bonds was held in low regard due to popular racist attitudes didn't really have a case, but now, it's a lot more difficult to see how racism isn't entering into opinions on Bonds vs. Clemens.