Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, Balco, and the Steroids Scandal That Rocked Professional Sports By Mark Fainaru-Wada

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In a multi-layered investigation spanning years of evidence which covered the art of athletes deceiving drug testers and fans, alike, these two San Francisco Chronicle journalists have exposed the inner workings of the Steroid Era in tremendous detail with plenty of analysis and both far-reaching though quite appropriate conclusions in the book “Game of Shadows.”

As I was coming of age during baseball’s Steroid Era and watched the falling of majestic hitting and home run records on an near-annual basis, I was a bit confused and naive to what ensued to many of my childhood heroes. The BALCO scandal, the congressional hearings involving MLB stars, and the new steroid testing policy in professional baseball in the mid-2000s - I didn’t truly know what any of this fuss was really all about. Even as recently as before I began reading this book, I wasn’t 100% sure if the Home Run King, Barry Bonds, had knowingly abused steroids, or for how long or which ones. Once I started reading this detail-ridden book on how BALCO operated and the calendars kept by its founder Victor Conte and Bonds’ trainer Greg Anderson, I became convinced about how both Bonds and numerous other athletes, including numerous Olympic champions, were steroid cheats who continuously beat the system through the use of undetectable performance enhancing drugs.

THIS book proves why it is so much better to read an in-depth book or thorough newspaper article on such an important topic rather than solely rely on television or newspaper journalism, as those mediums often only focus on a few of the dirty details which journalists and editors falsely believe are the only details the public wishes to hear about. THIS will answer most of the public’s questions regarding the exposure of a important part of baseball’s Steroid Era, and if another edition with an additional chapter highlighting the final developments over the last 12 years ever appears, this book truly will hold its weight in gold. As the iconic baseball film Moneyball put it, “Nobody reinvents this game.” Nobody… not even the greatest home run hitter who ever lived. Hardcover If Barry Bonds had retired at the end of the 1998 major league baseball season he would have been a first ballot inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005. Barry Bonds was the greatest outfielder of his generation. In the field his extraordinary arm was matched by his spectacular defensive range. At the plate he hit for both power and average. And on the base path he could steal and advance at will. As the authors note, Barry Bonds thought he was a better baseball player than every baseball player he ever met. And in most cases he was right.

At the end of the 1998 season Barry Bonds was 34 years old. He had won 3 National League MVP awards, was a career .290 hitter with 1,917 hits, 1,357 walks, 1,216 RBI and 411 Home Runs. And he wore size 10 1/2 shoes, size 42 jersey, size 7 1/4 hat (over a head full of hair), stood 6' 1 tall and weighed 190 lbs.

During the 1998 major league season Barry Bonds watched two of his fellow players -- Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa -- wage a season long home run derby in pursuit of Roger Maris' single season home run record. (In 1961 Roger Maris hit 61 home runs to break Babe Ruth's record 60 home runs during the 1927 season. Ruth's record had stood for 34 years. Maris' record would stand for 37 years.)

And as baseball fans feted McGwire and Sosa as genuine heroes -- and the national media proclaimed them the saviors of baseball -- the greatest outfielder of his generation seethed.

Barry Bonds knew he was a better baseball player than Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa combined. And with each home run McGwire and Sosa hit in 1998 (they'd both eclipse Maris -- McGwire hit 70 and Sosa hit 66) Bonds fury grew.

Barry Bonds was 34 years old. He'd never hit more than 46 home runs in a single season (five years earlier in 1993). And in his anger he decided he would do whatever it took to show the world he was the best home run hitter to ever play the game.

In his own words, Barry Bonds would take the shit.

And like most athletes who chose to take the shit two things happened. First, there was phenomenal athletic success. Second, there was the discovery of the cheating and the resulting consequences.

Using a suite of anabolic steroids and human growth hormone Barry Bonds transformed himself -- literally and figuratively -- into the best home run hitter to ever play the game.

Over the next six seasons, from 1999 to 2004, Bonds would average an unprecedented 50 home runs per season. (In 2001 he'd hit 73 home runs to break McGwire's single season record that had stood for a mere three years.)

And over those six seasons -- all after age 35 -- Barry Bonds physically grew at an alarming rate. His shoe size went from 10 1/2 to 13, his jersey went from size 42 to size 54, where a size 7 1/4 hat once covered a head full of hair he now wore a 7 3/4 hat over a shaved head, he grew from 6' 1 tall to 6' 3 tall and he went from weighing 190 lbs. with some body fat to weighing 260 lbs. with no body fat.

What did Barry Bonds mean in 1998 when he said he would take the shit? And what, ultimately, were the consequences of his decision? That is answered in this detailed account written by Mark Fainaru-Wu and Lance Williams.

And the answers involve more than 'the cream,' 'the clear,' THG, EPO, human growth hormone and Barry Bonds' mission to claim every home run record in baseball history.

It's an intriguing story with colorful 'criminals' like Victor Conte, Greg Anderson and Remi Korchemny and the underground scientists who produce undetectable anabolic steroids. There are countless cheating athletes from the the Olympics, NFL and MLB. And their coaches and trainers. And their employers. There are straight arrow Boy Scout federal agents, scientists and anti-doping crusaders earnestly seeking to clean things up. There are politicians who talk out of both sides of their mouth, want it both ways and cause more harm than good. There are grieving parents who've lost their children to steroid abuse (children following the example set by their athletic role models). And it's all rounded out by an ensemble cast of journalists, attorneys and judges.

The story is not a pleasant one. It's dirty. And it's genuinely heartbreaking.

If Barry Bonds had retired at the end of the 1998 major league baseball season he would have been a first ballot inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005. But he didn't. Driven by a furious anger Barry Bonds decide to take the shit in order to hit as many home runs as possible. He succeeded. And in doing so the greatest outfielder of his generation guaranteed he will never be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Hardcover As far as the investigation goes the authors did a solid job, but there is a lot of exaggeration and a number of baseless assertions and counterfactual claims that harm the book. The authors repeatedly claim Bonds was the best hitter ever. By any objective statistical analysis this is not true. The authors claim synthol is a drug that expands the muscle. It is neither a drug nor does it expand the muscle. It's an injectable oil that sits on top of the muscle. Think saline implants. Look up Gregg Valentino to see how ridiculous it makes someone appear.

There are a number of parallels between Bonds and ARod - talented assholes hated by rivals and teammates alike, both of whom turned to a steroid dealer in a non-descript building to improve their performance through better chemistry. Bonds is worse by most accounts, in that he's a racist and possibly abusive toward women, though it's hard to feel any pity for his girlfriend Kimberly Bell, seeing as how she knew he was married and then basically sued him because he refused to buy her a house.

In any case, 3 takeaways - 1. It's hypocritical to condemn athletes like Bonds, Marion Jones & others for taking PEDs when anabolic steroids are advertised during the world news every single night in the form of treatment for Low T

2. The reasons society seems OK with football players and bodybuilders taking steroids and HGH is because almost everyone in the sport is on it. It's a level playing field and therefore fair. This was not the case in baseball, as Griffey on drugs would have likely hit 80 home runs and Ruth, had steroids existed in his day, would have more than 100. These numbers are based on the comparison of their drug-free home run totals compared to the league during their respective time frames. So for Bonds to be remembered as a better player than those he was statistically less than before he began doping harms the integrity of the sport.

3. Bonds never won a damn thing and even though he finally stopped choking at the plate in the playoffs in 2002 he still managed to boot a ball in crunch time as his team blew a 5-0 lead in the 7th inning on Game 6. After Bonds left the Giants won two World Series in five years with dominant pitching, a star offensive player who is as wholesome and upstanding as they come, as well as a large collection of hitters who had been cut from other teams. The team was simply better without Barry. Bonds deserves a spot in the HOF, but as the ~50th best player to ever play, not as a top 5 player. Because without an unlevel playing field, that's what he was.

Hardcover My only regret is that I didn't read this book sooner. It made me rethink a lot of my opinions about not only the baseball players I grew up admiring, but athletes as a whole. While the scandal is many years removed, it still remains an insightful and relevant read for any baseball fan. Hardcover As a baseball fan, I was very interested in the information in this book. Among other things, it is the story of how Major League Baseball and the Players Union absolutely failed to address a pervasive problem in the sport. It also tells the amazing story of Barry Bonds--amazing because of just how incredibly egocentric, brusque, foolish and just mean-spirited he was (and is, I suspect).

The book tells two parallel stories--one concerning baseball and another about track and field. Track comes away looking much better because cheating athletes were actually given suspensions prior to the 2004 Olympics, whereas no baseball players were suspended or indicted at the time of these investigations.

The authors are reporters for the SF Chronicle and the book reads a little like a collection of articles. It is extremely well researched and while it is not poorly written, it does lack the flow and cohesiveness that a masterful writer would have given it. Hardcover

The complete inside story of the shocking steroids scandal that turned the sports world upside down
For years, in the shadowy reaches of the world of sport, there were rumors that some of our nation's greatest athletes were using steroids, human growth hormone, and other drugs to run faster, jump higher, and hit harder. But as track stars like Marion Jones blazed their way to Olympic medals and sluggers such as Mark McGwire brought fans back to baseball with stratospheric home runs, sports officials, the media, and fans looked past the rumors and cheered on the stars to ever-higher levels of performance. Then, in December 2004, after more than fifteen months of relentless reporting, San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams broke the story of the Bay Area Lab Co-operative, a tiny nutritional supplement company that according to sworn testimony was supplying elite athletes, including baseball MVP Jason Giambi, with banned drugs. The stories, exposing rampant cheating at the highest levels of athletics, shocked the nation as sports heroes were brought low and their records were tainted. The exposes led to Congressional hearings on baseball's drug problems, and a revived effort to purge the U.S. Olympic movement of drug cheats. Now, in Game of Shadows, Fainaru-Wada and Williams tell the complete story of BALCO and the investigation that has shaken the foundations of the sporting world. They reveal how an obscure, self-proclaimed nutritionist, Victor Conte, became a steroid svengali to multi-millionaire athletes desperate for a competitive edge, and how he created superstars with his potent cocktails of miracle drugs. They expose the international web of coaches and trainers who funneled athletes to BALCO, and how the drug cheats stayed a step ahead of the testing agencies and the law. They detail how an aggressive IRS investigator doggedly gathered evidence until Conte and his co-conspirators were brought to justice. And at the center of the story is the biggest star of them all, Barry Bonds, the muscle-bound MVP outfielder of the San Francisco Giants whose suspicious late-career renaissance has him threatening Hank Aaron's all-time home run record.

Shocking, revelatory, and page-turning, Game of Shadows casts light into the shadows of American sport to reveal the dark truths at the heart of the game today. Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, Balco, and the Steroids Scandal That Rocked Professional Sports


It's an impressive piece of journalism from the reporters who got those notorious San Francisco Chronicle scoops during the Balco scandal, but, like many contemporary sports books, it doesn't say much for the integrity of professional sports in the US or abroad. The book works well in its meticulous research and detail about who was using illegal steroids and how, and reading this is certainly not going to renew one's faith in humanity although it does provide some effective moments of schadenfreude watching everyone involved, with the possible exception of Bonds, reap what they'd sown. Bonds, McGwire and the rest of the power hitters who shattered baseball records were cheaters as were Marion Jones and the US and international track and field athletes of the era who set world record after world record.

While this book certainly doesn't excuse what they did, it at least tries to humanize many of the cheaters involved in the scandal, and many of the minor players do come off slightly sympathetic. It doesn't work for Conte, who comes across as the narcissistic bottom feeder he most certainly is, or for Bonds, who never actually paid a price for being a drug cheat. Sometimes the book feels incomplete since it cuts off before Marion Jones's jail term and while much of the scandal was still unfolding, but it's a detailed and fairly definitive document on a low point in US sports history.

What's most interesting of all and what's only alluded to in this account, however, is the story of the writers themselves. They were the first to break many of the details in the scandal, including the involvement of Jones and then husband Tim Montgomery. They were also nearly jailed for six months for refusing to name their sources. Oddly the names of the cheating athletes were redacted from early releases by the department of justice. It's not clear whether this was the Bush White House protecting plutocrat sports owners from a potential loss of revenue or just that administration's typical first amendment abuses, but, if there'd been a little more focus on these behind the scenes aspects, this would be a five-star book. Hardcover “With few exceptions, the more than three dozen athletes who
appeared before the grand jury admitted taking steroids ... all to
run faster, jump higher, hit the ball farther, and, ultimately, make
more money. Some of the confessions were grudging and evasive. Others were extremely forthcoming. It came down to the same thing: Competitive sports, it turned out, was part mirage, a game of shadows. “
- Game of Shadows

In this engaging book, Fainaru-Wada and Williams pull back the curtain on America’s national pastime revealing the intriguing backstory of one of it’s most publicised steroid scandals .

Years earlier, Canseco’s book “Juiced” was released as a “tell all” confessional of the rampant doping that occurs within baseball’s ranks. Most dismissed his rantings as the fabricated last remonstrations from a former bitter player destined to fade into obscurity. However it proved to be poignant forewarning to the coming storm that was to rock baseball to its very foundations.

In 1998 Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were embroiled in a home-run chase set to eclipse the long standing record of 60’s slugger, Roger Maris. Rival and baseball’s bad-boy, Barry Bonds was perturbed by the attention McGwire (whom Bonds considered a lesser, second rate hitter) was receiving. Bonds knew McGwire was receiving a pharmaceutical edge and committed himself to levelling the playing field.

Enter Victor Conte; a shameless self promoter who reinvented himself from failed musician to supplement shill, turned drug dealer to the stars. Like a modern day mad scientist, Conte and his BALCO entourage were committed to creating a chemical Frankenstein possesed with the prowess of a sporting Superman. Thus began a relationship that was to transform not only Bond’s on field ability, but the image of baseball, forever.

Even if you know little about, or aren’t even a fan of baseball, this is an engrossing uncovering of the story behind the surreptitious dealings and congressional investigation into steroid use.. A high level of detail is committed to discussing the drugs used by various athletes on Conte’s star roster. Bonds was said to have run the gamut of pharmaceuticals in a cycle that would make any bodybuilder envious including Deca, Winstrol, Testosterone, HGH, insulin, Tren, Clomid and two BALCO specials - The Clear and The Cream - designed to mask detection of many of the above agents.

But it’s not to suggest that the “crime” rests solely on the athletes’ shoulders. Despite the tainted records and public and political outcry, Wada and Williams show evidence of the tacit conspiracy existing between team owners, trainers and the powers that be who themselves look the other way as long as the cash registers keep ringing up their own record-hitting revenues. Hardcover I had wanted to read this book for a very long time, but never got around to it. I knew all about Barry Bonds and steroids in baseball from the media reports and endlessly ESPN conversations, so I suppose I never really felt the need to pick it up and read it.

Well I finally got around to it, and I have to say that I genuinely regret having gone this long without reading it.

First and foremost, this was some incredible reporting. After exhaustingly chasing down this information, countless interviews, and even acquiring sealed Grand Jury testimony, it really is amazing to see how some intrepid reporters can tell an incredibly detailed story of a major operation like this, as protected and closed off as it was to the outside world.

My biggest takeaway from the book was -- and I don't think I'm alone on this -- the impression it left with me of Barry Bonds.

I'm originally from the Bay area, and have kind of, sort of cheered for the Giants over the years. So I knew about Bonds and his reputation. He's an preening, egomaniacal jerk. That much has always been apparent just by watching him over the years.

But after reading this account of the BALCO scandal, I was left with the impression that he is one of the more contemptible human beings on the face of this planet.

Yes, I grant you, this is a one-sided story that focuses on his hypocrisy, his lying, his cheating, and portrays for you all of his most negative personality traits. His abusiveness. His unchecked paranoia. His degrading treatment of the women in his life. His inherent racism. His disgusting treatment of basically everyone. I get that. I realize I didn't just read any accounts of him giving a bat to a kid with cancer or read about his love of Shakespeare, or anything positive like that.

Still, the picture painted of him makes him out to be an incredibly pathetic, jealous, abrasive asshole obsessed with the glorification of his own massive ego.

That aside, even if he was a great guy, the account of the drug ring that he helped create and sustain was, in and of itself, enough to form a negative opinion of the man. Some of the things you read in here are just stunning.

In fact, I went into the book sort of, kind of thinking to myself that I would vote for him for the Hall of Fame, steroids and all, were I a baseball writer. After reading this, I actually don't think I would.

Of course, Bonds wasn't the only figure highlighted in this book. It is actually about the BALCO lab itself and its interactions with sports stars in many different athletic arenas. You get a lot of information about track and field, Marion Jones, and so on and so forth. Plenty of criticism to go around.

At the end of the day, though, this is really about the systematic process by which sports was corrupted by performance enhancing drugs in the 80s, 90s and 2000s. How it was done. Who did it. Why they did it. What they did.

Depressing, really, but so worth it to read. Hardcover Game Of Shadows is about BALCO and the impact that it had on the sporting world at large from Baseball (Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Benito Santiago, etc...) to Track and Field (Marion Jones) to Football (Bill Romanowski). But the main crux of this book focused squarely on Barry Bonds, detailing his steroid use starting in 1999.

If Hollywood ever decides to make a movie about BALCO, this is the book they will no doubt use as it's blue print. I for one would love to see it happen because this book was a gripping, fantastic read. I could not put this book down for one second and that's saying a lot since I knew pretty much the entire sordid story before even reading it.

With all the knowledge of what's been happening in real life concerning BALCO, the more I read the book, the more I devoured what was happening in the pages here. Knowing how it all ends, it was fascinating watching, er...reading about this group of people and associates that comprised BALCO as they were building their house of cards. A very shaky house of cards at that. It amazes me that the house didn't collapse sooner than it did with Victor Conte at the helm. He is nothing more than a spoiled little child, crying out for attention. He never amounted to anything in life so the only way he could feel like someone was to hang on to celebrities.

I can recommend this if you want an excellent read that will have you flipping page after page, even if it is incomplete in that Barry Bonds was never convicted in a court of law or that the book came out before his assault on Hank Aaron's all-time Home Run record which is not documented within'.

Highly recommend this book. Check it out.

You can find more of my Book, DVD, TV and Movie reviews at my Forum (Penny Can) at...

Feel free to stop by and contribute your 2 cents. Hardcover If I had to choose one word to describe this book it would be bitter. So much of this narrative is spun by bitter writers that clearly have a personal problem with Barry Bonds. Bonds isn't a person you can be very charitable about. He's made himself a public pariah in many different ways, but there is some clear resentment on the part of the writers. Even the verbiage of this book is bitter. The constant repetition of the term drug cheat is extremely telling. There is also a great deal of cherry picking with source material. Everything that potentially discounts the lean of the book is slyly dismissed and the writers try to discredit it. People with firsthand accounts of the investigation that are actually involved have their credibility called into question whereas someone like Jose Canseco is referenced as a credible source. The whole things just felt slimy and weird. From the strange vendettas of the writers, to the fact that they try to glorify their paper, the SF Chronicle, without acknowledging that it's their employer, there's no avoiding the human mistakes in this purportedly non-fiction document.

I would be remiss to not also discuss the entire point of the book. The steroid scandal, in general, is ridiculous. Punishing people for doing absolutely everything they can to excel for others' entertainment is ridiculous. I've never understood the desire to police steroids. Professional sports have always been fueled by drug abuse. Babe Ruth tried every sort of weird testosterone he could get his hands on, players have always taken stimulants, and currently, a professional athlete is preparing for, or playing a game where they are abusing some sort of a painkiller. To cherry pick what drugs players can use so that they can entertain us is foolish.

Also, I don't understand how this writers can discuss the involvement of the US government in 2004 and not once reflect on the myriad other things that these politicians should be focused on. George Bush, John McCain, etc., were signing away the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans so that they could die in a completely unjustified war at the exact moment they were trying to play police officer with the MLB. The hubris associated with the government involvement is out of this world. To threaten legal action against a private baseball league to distract the American public from the heinous and villainous things you're doing around the world is astounding. To be a so-called journalist and not once even acknowledge the waste of time and resources associated with this boondoggle is embarrassing. Hardcover