Sports Fans Still Rate Ruth as Greatest Home Run Hitter

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Significant drop in Barry Bonds' ranking

PRINCETON, NJ -- Barry Bonds has hit his 714th career home run, tying him with Babe Ruth for second place on baseball's all-time list and putting him within striking distance of Hank Aaron's overall record total of 755. Even though Ruth will soon rank third on the all-time list, U.S. sports fans still consider him to be the greatest home run hitter in baseball history. In fact, a growing percentage of fans rate Ruth as the game's top slugger when compared to a December 2004 poll. While Bonds continues to add to his career home run total, he is significantly less likely to be mentioned as baseball's greatest home run hitter now than he was in 2004.

A May 5-7, 2006, USA Today/Gallup poll asked a random sample of sports fans whom they "consider to be the greatest home run hitter in the history of Major League Baseball." Forty-three percent mention Ruth, while Aaron comes in second with 26%. No other player scores in the double digits, including Bonds, who is named as the greatest home run hitter by just 3% of sports fans. Mark McGwire, Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Sammy Sosa, and Albert Pujols are each mentioned by at least 1% of respondents. Fourteen percent of the fans did not offer an opinion, and 6% mentioned other players.

Who do you consider to be the greatest home run hitter in the history of Major League Baseball? [Open-ended]

2006 May 5-7

2004 Dec 17-19

%

%

Babe Ruth

43

35

Hank Aaron

26

23

Barry Bonds

3

13

Mark McGwire

2

6

Roger Maris

1

2

Mickey Mantle

1

2

Albert Pujols

1

--

Willie Mays

1

1

Sammy Sosa

1

1

Ted Williams

*

1

Other

6

5

No opinion

14

11

* Less than 0.5%

Gallup asked the same question in a December 2004 poll. Ruth topped that list as well, but by a much smaller margin over Aaron, 35% to 23%. Thirteen percent mentioned Bonds at that time, more than four times the percentage that does so today.

That decline could be due to growing evidence that Bonds used performance enhancing drugs. Sports fans' acknowledgement of McGwire, another player linked to the use of performance enhancing drugs, as the game's best home run hitter declined from 6% in 2004 to 2% today.

Currently, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell is conducting an investigation of steroid use in the sport. That investigation was prompted in part by the release of the book Game of Shadows, which alleges that Bonds regularly used performance enhancing drugs for several seasons. Bonds himself testified to taking two steroids, but maintains he did not know they were steroids.

Recent Gallup polling shows that more than three-quarters of baseball fans think both Bonds and McGwire used steroids or other performance enhancing drugs while playing Major League Baseball. In March, a majority of baseball fans, 52%, said baseball should take away Bonds' hitting records if it is proven that he took performance enhancing drugs.

While Bonds' pursuit of Ruth has attracted media attention, the chase has not been met with much enthusiasm. Major League Baseball has announced it will not commemorate the occasion in any special way. Gallup has not measured fan reaction to Bonds' pursuit of Ruth. However, the lack of support for him among baseball fans was evident in a March poll conducted prior to the start of the season. In that poll, more baseball fans said they preferred that Bonds retire (46%) than said they wanted to see him play baseball this year (41%).

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 588 sports fans, aged 18 and older, conducted May 5-7, 2006. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±4 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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