Thursday, May 04, 2006

"Game of Shadows"

We all know he was doing it. The change in his body was so remarkable that it couldn't have been just from working out and a healthy diet. His numbers by the late 1990s were beginning to decline, but by 1999 they took a turn in the other direction, despite the fact that he had just turned 35.

Barry Bonds was not content to be just on his way to the Hall of Fame for everything he accomplished up until 1999. He was so jealous of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa that he had to prove he was the best player in baseball again. But he needed help. Lots of it.

I finished reading "Game of Shadows", by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, who are investigative reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle. And once you finish it, you can come to only one conclusion.

Barry Bonds wasn't just doing steroids. He was a steroid factory.

Fainaru-Wada and Williams have done an exhaustive study into the whole steroid mess that is currently haunting baseball. It is a fascinating book. While Bonds is the central figure in this book, it actually revolves around Victor Conte, the founder of the BALCO laboratories of Northern California. Conte is portrayed as a "jock-sniffer", someone who is so star-struck to be around athletes and will do anything to make himself famous. Conte is also portrayed as a fast-talking hustler who could charm the pants off anyone. The book chronicles his rise as a "steroid svengali", and how his dream was to build "the perfect athlete" through steroids.

The book details those who got caught up in his world, from trainers to coaches to the athletes themselves. "Game of Shadows" shows Conte's relationships with track stars such as Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones (whose careers have been destroyed by their steroid revelations) and later his hookup with Greg Anderson, Barry Bonds' personal trainer.

But of course, Bonds gets most of the attention in the book. It chronicles his life as the son of a famous ballplayer, his life of privilege and the reasons why Bonds eventually chose to go on the juice. He's portrayed as a man consumed with envy and jealousy at the assault of Roger Maris' home run record in 1998 by Mark McGwire (some of which appears to be racial in nature). The authors, like most of the baseball world, also points fingers at baseball and its upper management for looking the other way while players got bigger, while the fans returned in huge numbers that summer. Baseball got healthier after that disasterous strike of 1994, but was at the same time shooting themselves in the foot and creating massive troubles that have finally come home to roost.

The authors have laid out their case about steroids and their abuse with some damning evidence, from the records kept at BALCO, to the agents who eventually arrested Conte, to Bonds' longtime mistress. I find it interesting that when the book came out that Bonds didn't sue the authors for libel, but for the fact that much of his grand jury testimony in 2003 about his steroid use (which he totally denied under oath) was leaked out. (The suit was thrown out.) Bonds knows that if he were to sue for libel, EVERYTHING would come out in open court for everyone to see.

Bonds hopes that this book will simply go away, as does Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi, who have refused comment about it. They are simply mistaken. Both Sheffield and Giambi are also portrayed as serious steroid users, but their stories are secondary compared to Bonds. When Victor Conte was released from jail last month, he promised to expose "Game of Shadows" as nothing but a bunch of lies. We haven't heard a single word from him since.

I would recommend "Game of Shadows" to anyone who wants the lowdown on the huge steroid mess that baseball is currently in. The book simply connects the dots and reaches an unmistakable conclusion that most of the general public has come to: that Barry Bonds wouldn't be anywhere near Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron in terms of home runs without the help of performance-enhancing drugs.

This book, and the scandal that is steroids, has one very positive aspect about it. It should make the reader appreciate more the accomplishments of players like Roger Maris and Hank Aaron, and the players of their era.

Is it any wonder that Bonds is sitting on 712 home runs right now, and no one outside of San Francisco seems to care?

P.S. I have NO interest in watching that weekly Bonds "infomercial" on ESPN every Tuesday night. Shame on ESPN for jumping into bed with him and further tarnishing their credibility. When I heard that Bonds also has "creative control" over the program, I said "no thanks."

Last night in Milwaukee, Bonds was hit in the head in a freak accident when a Giants player hit a ball through the batting cage. He was down for five minutes but wasn't seriously hurt. Has "the Curse of the Bambino" hit Bonds? Remember all that trash-talking he did about The Babe not long ago, about how he hoped the public would forget about what he once did? (Yeah, right Barry.)

Don't mess with The Babe, buddy. He has his ways of getting even.

1 comment:

Michael Leggett said...

Because Barry is sooooooooooooo arrogant, most longtime NATIONAL League Fans who I know of, rooted for the '02 Angels.