So I just finished "Game of Shadows," the definitive account of the BALCO steroids scandal by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, and I now know two things for certain:
- Barry Bonds absolutely and undeniably used steroids at least from 1999-2004;
- You are not allowed to have an opinion on Bonds, his alleged steroid use or his pursuit of the all-time home run record unless you've read this book.
I always hear people say that Bonds has never tested positive for steroids, and that's reason enough to believe him when he says he never used them (or at least give him the benefit of the doubt). But I think that argument is ridiculous -- that's like saying you can't get a murder conviction without a body and the murder weapon. There is such a thing as circumstantial evidence, and Williams and Fainaru-Wada present plenty of it.
However, there are two things that stand out in my mind as the most convincing reasons why I'm confident Bonds used steroids extensively.
Amid the doping calendars and testimony by confidants, there's one especially damning piece of evidence discovered in the BALCO investigation by the feds: A pair of steroid blood tests ordered on behalf of Bonds by Victor Conte and BALCO. Why is this significant? It's the same thing Conte would do for all the track stars he was supplying with steroids to make sure they wouldn't ever flunk a drug test.
Why would Bonds ever need a test specifically designed to see if there were any steroids in his system if he wasn't taking steroids? The only plausible explanation is that he was trying to make sure he'd beat whatever test came his way, just like the track stars.
Second -- and most telling in my mind -- is that Bonds elected not to sue the authors for libel, as the statute of limitations in California ran out a couple of months ago. While libel can be difficult for public figures such as Bonds to prove, it's not impossible, and trust me when I say he'd have a pretty good case against Williams and Fainaru-Wada -- if, indeed, what's in the book is false.
The reason for his decision not to sue can be one of only two things. Option 1: The authors are telling the truth. Option 2: Libel suits result in an awful lot of digging into a plaintiff's past; Bonds has skeletons in his closet -- liikely related to steroids -- he just doesn't want to see the light of day.
Neither reflects well on Bonds.
So where does this leave baseball?
Well, first off, Bud Selig basically has screwed his sport by waiting so long to do anything about it. The authors use Black Sox scandal commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis as an example of how a commish can clean up his sport, and while I know Selig has nowhere near that kind of power today, he certainly could have stood up to Bonds and the other cheaters years ago.
If Selig had any guts, he would have banned Bonds, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield and others from baseball years ago, when all of this evidence came to light. He would have sent a clear message that steroids won't be tolerated. Now, he's relegated to hiding from the issue, sitting the corner with his fingers in his ears singing "la la la la la la la la la la" and pretending it all goes away.
If you read "Game of Shadows" and decide that there's just not enough evidence to "convict" Bonds and the others, so be it. If you finish and decide that Bonds did it, but didn't really do anything wrong, given that it wasn't against baseball rules -- never mind the fact that it's a federal crime to possess and use steroids without a prescription -- I can't change your mind on that.
But come to those conclusions only after considering all the evidence. You owe yourself that much as a sports fan.