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Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports Paperback – March 1, 2007
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"Devastating. . . . groundbreaking. . . . Necessary reading for anyone concerned with the steroids era in baseball and track and field and its fallout on sports history."—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"A compelling portrait of conspiracy. . . . Fascinating."—The Boston Globe
"Scorching. . . . A testament to baseball’s failure."—Newsweek
"Superb. . . . Important and disturbing."—San Francisco Chronicle
"The evidence is detailed, damning, and overwhelming. . . . It’s a growing bonfire of controversy. This book is one of the matches."—The Philadelphia Inquirer
"[Fainaru-Wada and Williams] have got the goods and they reveal them methodically. Everything is well-sourced and meticulously explicated."—Chicago Tribune
“A shocking exposé of the seedy side of pro sports that underscores just how easy it is to cheat.”—Entertainment Weekly
About the Author
Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada are reporters on the investigative team at the San Francisco Chronicle. Together, they broke a series of exclusive stories on the BALCO scandal and earned a string of national honors, including the George Polk Award, The Edgar A. Poe Award of the White House Correspondents’ Association, The Dick Schaap Excellence in Sports Journalism Award and The Associated Press Sports Editors award for investigative reporting.
Williams has written on subjects including the California cocaine trade, Oakland’s Black Panther Party and the career of San Francisco mayor and political power-broker Willie Brown. His journalism also has been honored with: the Gerald Loeb Award for financial writing; the California Associated Press’ Fairbanks Award for public service; and, on three occasions, the Center for California Studies' California Journalism Award for political reporting. He was the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California Journalist of the Year in 1999.
Born in Ohio, he graduated from Brown University and the University of California-Berkeley and attended University College, London, U.K. Before joining the Chronicle, he worked as a reporter at the Hayward Daily Review, the Oakland Tribune, and the San Francisco Examiner. He was a University of Michigan Journalism Fellow in 1986-87.
Top Customer Reviews
The reporters have done a remarkable job documenting the history of steroids, which were used as far back as the 1976 Summer Olympics where the East German women all too handily dominated the swimming events. One revelation for me from the book is how steroids do not directly enhance athletic performance but allow a greater endurance to train harder with a decreasing chance of injury and no need for recovery time. This nuance is critical in understanding how athletes can justify using such risky substances and escape accountability for their actions. This is the moral twist of the book and the one that resonates most clearly as a cautionary tale for future athletes in assessing their options.
Just as intriguing is the detailed chronicle of the rise and fall of the enterprising Conte, who went from being a bass guitarist for Tower of Power to the owner of a holistic health clinic to a highly paid consultant for renowned Olympic and professional athletes. Conte's real fortunes began with his discovery of a means to provide performance-enhancing drugs which would elude detection. At first, he saw the availability of obviously illegal steroids to targeted athletes as an opportunity to get them to endorse his legal nutritional supplements. Demand, however, went beyond his expectations, and he refocused his energy to identify creative ways to get the drugs into athletes, whether by injections, ointments or drips under the tongue.
At the center of the BALCO distribution scandal has been Bonds, who is certainly held up as the highest profile athlete under Conte's spell. The co-authors paint an alternately sympathetic and unflattering portrait of a prodigiously gifted athlete cast under the shadow of his father Bobby. The portrayal doesn't come across so much as exploitative as it does a typical case study into the competitive mindset of a professional athlete. Triggered by Mark McGwire's record-breaking 70 home runs during the 1998 season, Bonds was apparently determined to surpass McGwire by turning to steroids to bulk up his physique in the same way. His constant connection was personal trainer Greg Anderson, and through the next five seasons, Bonds' usage escalated and became more clandestine.
The result has been a stellar performance on the field with a hulking physique to match his superman-like transformation. Off the field, he evolved into a raging egomaniac not above cheating on his taxes or his wife. These are hostile allegations but ones that Williams and Fainaru-Wada support with reams of testimony by intimates and colleagues. In 2001, Bonds beat McGwire's single-season home run record, and he is on his way to beating Hank Aaron's career home run record this coming season. At the same time, Conte and Anderson, thanks to expert plea bargaining, saw minimal prison time for their actions. Whether Bonds is being held up as a scapegoat seems rather moot, as I cannot help but feel this will be an empty victory given the ample evidence the co-authors provide here. With Bonds' evasive responses in the press and the inevitable slander lawsuits, one gets little sense that there will by any abatement on the problem at hand.
I've been a baseball fan since the 1981 strike, when I discovered the game through its absence on TV and radio. I went to my first game at Shea Stadium in 1982 on the day that I turned 8 and a half. Mookie Wilson homered that day. He was not, as far as we know, on steroids. Mike Schmidt did not play for the Phillies that day, due to an injury. Schmidt recently came out with a book denouncing steroids, a book that's selling slightly fewer copies than "Game of Shadows".
Even though I raised myself a Mets fan, a team that a few years later rose and fell at the altar of white powder, I did grow up in a Yankees' household, and always took Roger Maris' record very seriously. I was moved and impressed when Mark McGwire brought the Maris family along on September 8, 1998, and made them such a central part of Number 62. When Barry Bonds later said he wanted to "take" Babe Ruth's record for career homers by a left-handed hitter and then warned us to "don't talk about him no more", I was not quite as moved, and certainly not impressed.
Bonds and Marion Jones are not the only big revelations in "Game of Shadows". Who would have imagined that such Bay Area fringe players as Armando Rios and Randy Velarde were BALCO customers? Then again, we learned from Jose Canseco's book last year that steroids alone do not make one a great athlete.
"Game of Shadows" is a remarkable work of investigative journalism. When I read books like this I always pay attention to the sources and footnotes. "Game of Shadows" is better footnoted than a typical Bob Woodward book, although for obvious reasons reveals fewer source names than a less controversial sports biography like "Namath". The authors make good use of Bonds' pre- and post-steroid statistics in their appendices. They're not able to name all of their sources, but the rest of the reporting has the ring of authenticity so I can accept that they did their best to verify all their interviews with anonymous sources "familiar with Bonds" or "familiar to Conte".
The only part of the book that disturbed me, for a moment, was the blatant editorializing. It's not enough for the authors to document that Victor Conte systematically sought to provide performance-enhancing drugs to an increasing roster of high-profile athletes, and it's not enough for them to prove that Barry Bonds injected himself with the whole range of Conte pharmaceuticals. They do descend to name-calling. Conte's departure from the group Tower of Power is turned into something creepy; his family's own legal problems, which don't appear related to BALCO, are also brought into the light of day. In the brief section describing Bonds' claiming of the single-season home run record in October 2001, his victory speech is described as "rambling".
However, even the editorial comments can be seen as objective journalism. Bonds himself has made increasingly bizarre public statements part of his public persona. And where the authors reprint some of the immature things Conte chose to submit to the Usenet forum, those Usenet posts are public record; anyone can access them even today, and when you do, you'll see that the authors didn't even use the most inflammatory Conte quotes. Conte's online persona, at least, is worthy of scorn.
What happens next? The book's final chapter and its epilogue show how both baseball (Bud Selig, Donald Fehr) and the government (the U.S. Attorney for San Francisco) have attempted to sweep the steroids mess under the carpet. The government seemed more interested in plugging leaks than in punishing lawbreakers. The authors reveal conflicts between USADA, the IRS and John McCain on one hand, and federal prosecutors on the other. The final chapter closes with a San Francisco Giants' flack defending Bonds' achievements, in spite of all the documentary evidence of fraud. This book wants to make baseball fans angry when the government and baseball officials will silently acquiesce to Bonds' history-making.
Hank Aaron's all-time home run record is going to fall one day. It would be nice to be able to root for the man who breaks it. I gave my best to Mark McGwire in 1998, and evidently all for nothing. I am not going to be fooled again so easily.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
There are enough dubious and shady characters in Game of Shadows to...Read more