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Poll: Half of fans don't want Bonds to hit 755

Half of baseball fans are rooting against Barry Bonds in his bid to break Hank Aaron's career home run record. That said, it's getting tough to find anyone rooting for the sport at all these days.

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.

Yet overall, about two-thirds of Americans did not regard
themselves as fans.

"There's so many sports on the menu now," New York Mets
general manager Omar Minaya said. "You ask 10, 20, 30 years ago,
it was a different menu. There's other sports out there now, so I
can fully understand. People like doing other things.

"That being said, I still think baseball has never been more
popular," he said. "And I say that because look at the
attendance."

MLB games this season drew more than 75 million people for the
first time.

"The interest is there, it's just I think there's so many other
distractions and interests today for kids, for children,"
Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty. "Kids probably don't have
the same interest that we did when we were kids because there's
more alternatives."

Many others found something else troubling -- salaries. Major
league players made an average of nearly $3 million this season.

Among all Americans, 28 percent said salaries were the top
problem in baseball, 21 percent said it was the high cost of
attending games and 19 percent said it was players using steroids
and performance-enhancing drugs.

That's a change from an AP-AOL Sports poll taken in April 2005,
when 27 percent picked banned substances as baseball's No. 1
problem.

Among fans, salaries, the cost of attending games and steroids
were in close competition as the top problem.

Those over 35 years old and whites were more likely than younger
adults and minorities to say players made too money.

The survey found 58 percent of fans said they cared "a lot"
whether players were using steroids and performance-enhancing drugs
-- that's slightly lower than in AP-AOL Sports polls taken in April
2005 and April 2006.

Fans who follow baseball closely were more likely to care a lot.
And 51 percent of fans overall say MLB isn't doing enough about
banned drugs.

"I think that Major League Baseball should do more about
steroid use, as far as making a statement," said Cardinals fan
Steve Subick of Mount Olive, Ill. "Baseball should make a stand on
steroid use, so they're making it look like they're trying harder
to make a difference."

Inge, however, took issue with the fans' concern.

"They're misinformed because there is no steroid issue in
baseball anymore," the Tigers player said.

About two-thirds of fans felt tougher penalties for banned
substances did not affect the quality of play this season.

Among other findings:

• The New York Yankees were the team that most fans rooted for,
14 percent, followed by the Atlanta Braves, 10 percent, and Boston Red Sox, 9 percent. The Yankees also were the team fans most liked to root against, 40 percent, with Boston way back at 7 percent.

• Seventy-nine percent of fans felt the quality of umpiring was good or
excellent. Only 19 percent rated it fair or poor.

• Seventy-five percent of fans said postseason games start at the right
time, 19 percent said they were on too late. And while most fans,
73 percent, said they would stay up late to watch the World Series,
only 38 percent of those with school-aged children said they'd let
their children stay awake past their bedtimes.

The AP-AOL Sports poll of 2,002 adults, including 774 baseball
fans, was conducted by telephone Oct. 10-12 and Oct. 16-18 by
Ipsos. 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.

Results were weighted to represent the population by demographic factors such as age, sex, region, race and income.

There are other sources of potential error in polls, including the wording and order of questions. Results may not total 100 percent because of rounding.