An AP-AOL Sports poll released Thursday shows that only one-third of Americans call themselves fans of professional baseball — about the level of support for the last decade, but lower than 1990.
And they see another problem competing with steroids: stratospheric salaries.
Brandon Inge of the World Series-bound Detroit Tigers was surprised to hear that only 32 percent of Americans consider themselves fans.
"That sounds a little low to me," the third baseman said. "It's America's pastime."
So is rooting against Bonds, it appears. The poll showed 48 percent of fans want the San Francisco star to fall short of Aaron's mark; 33 percent would like Bonds to break it and another 16 percent said they didn't care.
Bonds has hit 734 homers and is closing in on Aaron's total of 755. Shadowed by steroid allegations and slowed by injuries, Bonds homered 26 times this season.
"It saddens me," said Bonds' agent, Jeff Borris. "I think true baseball fans who know and understand everything Barry has done to get to this point should be pulling for him.
"They should feel fortunate that they'll have the opportunity to see him break probably the most hallowed record in sports," he said.
Tigers pitcher Jamie Walker understood the public's view of Bonds.
"That sounds about right. People have their opinions. If they're singling out Barry Bonds, they could look at a lot of guys over the last 15 years. Nobody wants to see some old records get broken, but they didn't do steroid testing back then," he said.
Young adults, age 18 to 29, were more likely than those 40 and over to want Bonds to break the record. White fans rooted against Bonds more than minorities, and fans who think Major League Baseball is not doing enough about steroids were more likely to hope Bonds comes up short.
Alex Bast, a 24-year-old fan wearing a St. Louis Cardinals jersey and Tigers hat at Busch Stadium during the NL championship series, wants Bonds to fall shy.
"I personally hope he doesn't break the record," he said. "I just think that there's kind of too much of a cloud of uncertainty about him and the steroid issue, that it would be good for baseball if he didn't break it to kind of keep that number sacred."
Back in the 1940s and 1950s, when Babe Ruth still held the single-season and career homer records, there was no doubt that baseball was the No. 1 sport in America. Those numbers have eroded, too.
According to the poll, more Americans 35 years and older than under 35 considered themselves baseball fans. Whites were more likely than minorities to put themselves in that category.