Bonds away : baseball mythology and the 2007 home run chase


In 2007, Barry Bonds hit his 75 6th home run, breaking Hank Aaron's all-time record for most home runs in a Major League career. While it would be expected that such an accomplishment would induce unending praise and adulationfor the new record-holder, Bonds did not receive the treatment typically reserved for a beloved baseball hero. The purpose of this thesis is to assess media representations of the 2007 home run chase in order to shed light upon the factors which led to the mixed representations which accompanied BOlTds ' assault on Aaron's record. Drawingfrom Roland Barthes ' concept of myth, this thesis proposes that Bonds was portrayed in predominantly negative ways because he was seen as failing to embody the values of baseball's mythology. Using a qualitative content analysis of three major American newspapers, this thesis examines portrayals of Bonds and how he was shown both to represent and oppose elements from baseball's mythology, such as youth, and a distant, agrarian past. Recognizing the ways in which baseball is associated with American life, the media representations of Bonds are also evaluated to discern whether he was portrayed as personifYing a distinctly American set of values. The results indicate that, in media coverage of the 2007 home run chase, Bonds was depicted as a player of many contradictions. Most commonly, Bonds' athletic ability and career achievements were contrasted with unflattering descriptions of his character, including discussions of his alleged use of performance-enhancing substances. However, some coverage portrayed Bonds as embodying baseball myth. The findings contribute to an appreciation of the importance of historical context in examining media representations. This understanding is enhanced by an analysis of a selection of articles on Mark McGwire 's record-breaking season in 1998, and careful consideration of, and comparison to, the context under which Bonds performed in 2007. Findings are also shown to support the contemporary existence of a strong American baseball mythology. That Bonds is both condemned for failing to uphold the mythology and praised for personifYing it suggests that the values seen as inherent to baseball continue to act as an American cultural benchmark

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