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of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and
the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports
Game of Shadows denounces Barry Bonds for taking a variety of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs from 1998 on. The journalists build a strong case against Bonds, including direct testimony from Kimberly Bell, Bonds’ former mistress, and statements implicating him made by convicted steroid dealers and users to federal agents. Bonds himself has consistently denied using steroids, claiming his muscular physique is the result of hard work, and arguing that he is the victim of a racist conspiracy.
There was enough evidence against Bonds for a Grand Jury to subpoena him in December 2003. His rambling, dissembling answers to the direct questions posed by the prosecutors seem extremely suspicious, to say the least. While he did not admit to knowingly taking steroids, he did acknowledge using “the Cream” and “the Clear,” two illegal substances distributed by BALCO, which he claimed he thought were arthritis cream and flaxseed oil respectively. In fact, the Cream is a “mixture of synthetic testosterone and epitestosterone” that is used as a masking agent because it makes the athlete appear to have normal levels of testosterone when tested. The Clear is a designer steroid that was undetectable by drug testers until recently.
The main evidence against Bonds is circumstantial, based on the significant
changes in his physique and the dramatic increase in his statistical
performance at a time in his career when most hitters’ numbers
begin falling, not growing. Bonds transformed himself from a lean and
speedy, hit-for-average type of ballplayer in the early 1990s to a stocky,
muscle-bound, all-or-nothing slugger—he has gained 43 pounds of
muscle since 1987—who surpassed McGwire’s 70 home run season
record from 1998 with 73 of his own in 2001.
Game of Shadows feels a bit rushed, and neither Fainaru-Wada nor Williams will win any awards for stylish prose. Most of this book is actually focused on several Olympic athletes who were convicted of steroid use in the BALCO investigation. Some of that side of the story is important because of how it implicates Bonds, but still, the authors should have done a better job of balancing that part of their case with the baseball side.
Nonetheless, Game of Shadows is a must-read for anyone interested in the effects of doping in professional sports, and especially any baseball fan who believes Bonds is the real thing. Based on the case presented here, he ain’t.
Joe Wiebe recently completed his first novel, a literary baseball story called Mudville.
Copyright © Joe Wiebe. All rights reserved.