The crazy thing about the revelations in “Game of Shadows,” the explosive book by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters about Bonds’ steroid use that hit the Web Tuesday and newsstands Wednesday in a Sports Illustrated excerpt, is that for all its very real explosiveness, there aren’t any major revelations in it.
For all the moral clarity on display in the commentariat over the past 24 hours and no doubt the next 24,000 or more, for all the talk that now, for sure, the record books should be wiped clean of Barry Bonds’ name, Cooperstown’s doors should be closed to him, baseball should do, well, something, we haven’t woken up to a different world, or even a different Barry Bonds.
The outline of the story, we knew. What authors Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada have given us is the details. Exhaustive research and dogged reporting by these two, who have been out front on the story of the BALCO steroid-lab scandal for two years, have resulted in a picture of Bonds’ descent into drug abuse that’s painfully, pardon the pun, clear.
Quick disclosure: I worked with Williams at the San Francisco Examiner, sometimes copy-edited his work and knew him in a nod-hello-on-the-sidewalk kind of way.
Anyone out there who somehow believed Bonds was clean before Tuesday, that he was the victim of a witch hunt, just another black man getting the business from the white media, I commend you for your faith and optimism.
Anyone out there who somehow still believes after the release of the “Game of Shadows” excerpt that Bonds is legit, the victim of a witch hunt, just another black man getting the business from the white media, I respectfully submit you have lost connection with reality and are in need of psychological counseling. Seriously.
Let’s see some evidence before we start taking MVP awards away, I wrote in that Bonds-for-MVP series two years ago. I found Bonds’ patently absurd grand jury testimony and reports of records connecting Bonds to BALCO and steroid use evidence enough.
“Game of Shadows” is based, according to a note by the authors, on interviews with more than 200 people, grand jury transcripts, confidential memos “detailing federal agents’ interviews with other athletes and trainers who had direct knowledge of BALCO,” unredacted versions of affidavits filed by investigators, e-mail correspondence between BALCO owner Victor Conte and athletes and trainers about drugs, evidence lists and a briefing memo for agents preparing to raid BALCO.
In the face of all that, Bonds’ continuing denials, and those of anyone else, are beyond absurd.
I think the saddest thing in the excerpt available so far is that one of the only ways it’s possible to defend the use of performance-enhancing substances doesn’t apply to Bonds. A juicer can argue that he was just trying to maximize his ability, to get the most out of his body — selflessly putting himself at risk — for the benefit of his team.
It’s not a very compelling argument, but it’s possible.
But it wasn’t an absence of World Series appearances that motivated Bonds, whose Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates teams had failed to win a pennant in any of his 13 seasons through 1998, when, Williams and Fainaru-Wada write, he decided to start juicing.
Bonds was just jealous that Mark McGwire was getting more attention.
So much for Bonds’ defiant and often-repeated claim that he doesn’t care what anybody thinks of him. How dare anybody think that McGwire, whom Bonds rightly thought was not as good an all-around player, was more worthy of adulation.
This classic sporting tragedy, one worthy of Shakespeare, of Sophocles, began with the smallest, pettiest of emotions, schoolboy jealousy. Why does Big Mac get more cake than me?
And it is a classic tragedy because Bonds was already great when he decided he wasn’t great enough. He was a slam-dunk Hall of Famer at 34, one who combined speed, fielding ability and power, who had a good chance at finishing in the top 10 home run hitters of all time, an outside shot at being the fourth man to hit 600.
He reached too far, ignored the Cassandra-like warnings of those who told him about the dangers of steroids, and ended up in ruin.
Of course, Bonds doesn’t seem to think he’s ruined, blithely saying he’ll be ignoring the book. He’s apparently playing it as a farce.
So what do we do with this new information? Kick Bonds out of baseball? Not likely. You noticed, I assume, that commissioner Bud Selig found reason to be in Milwaukee Tuesday, rather than at one of three domestic sites of opening games in the World Baseball Classic, one of the biggest initiatives of his tenure and absolutely his baby.
Think he was ducking the controversy? Think Milwaukee’s in Wisconsin?
The debates over whether to erase Bonds from the record books or keep him out of the Hall of Fame have intensified for the moment, but with no real new information on the yes-no question of whether Bonds juiced, the arguments are the same as they were Monday.
They have more to do with what you think the record books and the Hall of Fame should be about than what you think Barry Bonds jabbed into his butt. For all the dazzling detail of the “Game of Shadows” excerpt, I haven’t changed my view that the record book should portray what happened and leave the judgments to readers.
I also still believe that if Barry Bonds had a Hall of Fame career, which he did, he should be in the Hall of Fame, even if he’s a scoundrel, which he is. I’ve heard the counterargument to both of these points. I’d be interested in hearing if your views on these two questions have changed since Monday.
To me the most important revelation isn’t the laundry list of actual drugs Bonds ingested or his schedule of taking them or the emotional and occasionally physical violence his former girlfriend, Kimberly Bell, says he committed on her.
It’s the fact that Conte, Bonds’ personal trainer Greg Anderson and the rest of the BALCO crowd were so indiscreet and yet so safe from both sports and real-world law enforcement.
These guys were practically erecting billboards on the Bayshore Freeway saying, “We provide steroids to professional athletes!” For years. And it took a disgruntled track coach turning in a used syringe for the authorities to even know the drugs they were pushing existed, never mind that BALCO was pushing them.
Anderson bragged to someone wearing a wire that the massive cocktail of illegal substances he was giving Bonds was undetectable, that an athlete could juice up on the day of a test and not worry about a thing.
That’s the story here. Not that the most prominent jerk and steroid abuser in baseball really was a jerk and a steroid abuser. But that law enforcement is so comically behind the drug pushers.
The cops are barely even in the game. How could they be? There’s no money in law enforcement. The real money’s in the cheating. If there’s another BALCO somewhere right now — and why wouldn’t there be? — the drug cops are almost certainly in the dark about it.
It’s a joke to worry about whether Bonds’ records have damaged the integrity of the game. Bonds is a hard rain, but for all we know the game’s integrity is being washed away by a tsunami of cheating.
And speaking of team chemistry, we haven’t even entered the coming era of genetic testing.
As usual, I don’t know quite what to do with these latest revelations about Bonds. But acting surprised, and acting like the well-deserved downfall of Barry Bonds is a signal victory for the good guys, a nail in the coffin of a dark era of undetected cheaters, those don’t seem like options.
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