Few Americans like Alex Rodriguez right now, but the past experience of other baseball stars who faced controversy indicates he may bounce back.
Former star of the New York Yankees Alex Rodriguez, who recently launched legal action against Major League Baseball alleging that it engaged in “vigilante justice” against him when it suspended him for his use of performance-enhancing drugs, doesn’t get much love from baseball fans or non-fans alike. But the latest Economist/YouGov Poll suggests there may be redemption down the road: other disgraced baseball stars are now much more likely to be viewed favorably than Rodriguez currently is.
San Francisco’s Barry Bonds and Chicago’s Sammy Sosa both ended their careers six years ago amid allegations of the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. Sosa had tested positive in 2011 and Bonds was convicted of obstruction of justice in a steroids inquiry. Neither has been voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame despite meeting the minimum conditions. Nevertheless, public opinion of both today looks far better than opinions of A-Rod.
Despite being more popular than Rodriguez, Bonds is still viewed unfavorably.
Baseball fans think better of all three than the public does – though even those who follow baseball closely are fairly evenly divided on how they feel about Bonds. As for Rodriguez, the fans, like the public overall, view him negatively. Americans felt the same way about Rodriguez in 2009, just after Rodriguez admitted he had previously used performance-enhancing drugs.
Although four in ten Americans haven’t heard about A-Rod’s suit against baseball, most are not on his side in his case: two-to-one Americans believe that Major League Baseball conducted a “proper and thorough” investigation of his use of steroids.
Fans and those who are aware of Rodriguez’s suit agree overwhelmingly. In fact, most Americans believe the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs is a major problem in major league baseball, and nearly half think many players use those drugs. Major League Baseball gets positive marks for its prevention of drug use only by those who are most attentive to the game. The league itself is viewed positively.
In the long run, opinions can change. Former Cincinnati star and manager Pete Rose, was made ineligible to participate in baseball for the rest of his life after he gambled on baseball games, including those of his own team, and was later jailed for income tax evasion. After all this, he is now viewed favorably by the public and by the game’s fans. Overall, 38% of Americans view his favorably, while 23% do not. The more a person pays attention to baseball, the more likely that person is to view Rose favorably.
Baseball stars who have avoided the taint of using steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs can still be heroes. Cal Ripken, Jr., the Orioles infielder who broke Lou Gehrig’s 56-year old record for consecutive games played in 1995, gets overwhelmingly positive assessments from the public and the fans. Nearly 90% of those who follow the game closely rate him favorably. And Mariano Rivera, the just-retired Yankees relief pitcher, also gets good marks, though fewer Americans know him. Among those most attentive to the game, eight in ten view Rivera favorably.
Full results can be found here.
Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.