When it comes to rooting for Barry Bonds to become the home run champion, one factor stands out: race.
An AP-Ipsos poll released Monday showed 55 percent of minority baseball fans want Bonds to set the record, while only 34 percent of non-Hispanic white baseball fans hope he passes Hank Aaron's record.
The results mark a significant jump among minorities. Last October, just 34 percent in an AP-AOL poll were rooting for Bonds to make history.
Bonds went into Monday night's game against the Chicago Cubs with 751 home runs, four behind Aaron.
A seven-time NL MVP, Bonds has been shadowed by steroid suspicions for several years. The San Francisco star has steadfastly denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs.
``When you look at the whole era of steroid use, why pick on one man?'' asked John Primus, a black fan from Raleigh, N.C., said at Wrigley Field. ``Clean up that whole era. If he was 300 home runs down, nobody would say a word. It's just because he's so close.''
Brian Morse, a white fan from Peoria, Ill., was rooting against Bonds.
``He's surly, and I've read a few books on him. It's bad enough on the field, but the way he's treated family members is disgraceful,'' he said before the Giants-Cubs game. ``I think these guys, especially the popular ones, are kind of heroes to kids, and Barry is just a bad example all around.''
The poll showed that 40 percent of fans overall want Bonds to break the record. That's a slight increase from last fall, when 33 percent of fans were rooting for him to top Aaron.
That's a lot different than it was when Aaron approached Babe Ruth's record of 714.
A Harris Sports Survey back then showed 77 percent of baseball fans were rooting for Aaron to beat the Babe. That poll was taken less than a month before Aaron did it in 1974; the previous August, a Harris survey found 63 percent rooting for the Hammer.
By a 63 percent to 26 percent margin, fans in that August poll said they agreed with the statement that they were ``shocked to hear people are rooting against Aaron because he is black.''
The Harris results were not broken down by ethnic groups. Aaron received considerable hate mail during his path toward No. 715.
As for Bonds, about two-thirds of minority fans said in the AP-Ipsos poll that they thought Bonds should become a Hall of Famer; 49 percent of non-Hispanic whites said he belonged in Cooperstown.
The issue of steroids, when it pertains to Bonds, produced a much bigger split.
Fewer than a quarter of minorities - 24 percent - think Bonds is being treated fairly when it comes to allegations of steroid use, compared to 62 percent of non-Hispanic white fans.
Standing behind the Giants dugout at Wrigley Field, Zach Pagan gave Bonds the benefit of any doubt.
``Innocent till proven guilty,'' said Pagan, a white fan from Chicago suburbs. ``I think a lot of players in baseball did it to stay healthy. He wasn't the only one, but he's the one scrutinized.''
Yet the frequent talk about doping is taking its toll on fans.
For example, nearly three in five fans - 58 percent - said they now put less stock in baseball records because of steroid allegations.
And 71 percent of fans said they care ``a lot'' if ballplayers use steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs, an increase from 58 percent in October. Minorities seem to be particularly concerned about this issue at 70 percent, up from 38 percent last fall.
In addition, 61 percent of fans contend MLB is not doing enough to combat steroids and illegal drugs; it was 51 percent in October.
The AP-Ipsos poll of 2,000 adults, including 825 baseball fans, was conducted by telephone May 29-31 and June 4-6. The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points for all adults, 3.5 percentage points for baseball fans.
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AP news survey specialist Dennis Junius, Manager of News Surveys Trevor Tompson and AP Sports Writers Jim Litke and Janie McCauley contributed to this story.
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On the Net:
Ipsos: http://www.ap-ipsosresults.com

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