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Barry Bonds is a liar. So are other current and past Major League Baseball players; at least a few team trainers, coaches, managers, and owners; and some executives who run MLB. They all deny that there is widespread use of steroids, human growth hormone, and other performance-enhancing substances throughout professional baseball. “Lying” is a strong word, an ugly word. But its use seems justified based on evidence presented in Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO and the Steroid Scandal That Rocked Professional Sports, a book-length exposé by San Francisco Chronicle journalists Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. Two other recent books covering many of the same incidents — Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Antihero, by Jeff Pearlman, and Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball, by Howard Bryant — bolster the conclusion that liars abound in Major League Baseball as well as in other professional and amateur sports. When occasional truth tellers emerge, they end up marginalized. In June 2002, Ken Caminiti revealed in Sports Illustrated that he had used steroids in the mid-1990s, which changed him from a player with a medium build into a muscle-bound slugger. He started hitting more home runs and in 1996, while playing for the San Diego Padres, he won the coveted Most Valuable Player award in the National League. Caminiti said steroid use had become rampant among MLB players. But the baseball establishment, journalists, and fans tended to dismiss him as a washed-up, bitter drug addict. Perhaps in part from the steroid use, Caminiti’s health declined and he died in 2004, at age 41. And then last year, former MLB player José Canseco created a sensation with his memoir Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big. Critics dismissed him as a greedy author trying to pay off his considerable debts. Read together, the books relate a morality tale about immensely talented athletes who think only fools refuse to cheat. Why settle for garden-variety greatness, they believe, when sublime greatness can be achieved through amphetamines, human growth hormone, and steroids? The morality tale reaches beyond the professional world to the wider society, as athletes who have not yet graduated from high school decide to fill their still-maturing bodies with performance-enhancing substances — just like their heroes. Game of Shadows has received the most attention of the three books, partly because it offers access to the normally secret grand jury testimony of Bonds. It also contains the largest amount of information about the multiagency inquiry that spawned the grand jury. START WITH A RAID Despite their notable careers, the reporters behind Game of Shadows could not have dreamed they would work on a story quite like the steroids exposé. It began with a Sept. 3, 2003, raid by federal agents — propelled by an Internal Revenue Service investigator named Jeff Novitzky — of a nutritional-supplement company founded by Victor Conte and named the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, better known as BALCO. When word of the raid reached the San Francisco Chronicle newsroom, federal agents would say nothing to the journalists. So editors asked Fainaru-Wada and Williams to investigate. Despite the agents’ silence, the reporters had a number of other ways to obtain information. After all, raiders from five government agencies had searched BALCO files; those agencies did not always get along, and turf wars, which often mean leaks to journalists, developed. The names of athletes galore emerged from the files, and identities of celebrities are frequently difficult to keep under wraps. Furthermore, some of those athletes allegedly using BALCO’s performance-enhancing products hired lawyers and talked to spouses, significant others, relatives, agents, teammates, and team owners about the allegations. Federal prosecutors convened a grand jury, which meant witnesses parading in and out of a courthouse. All those folks in the know made keeping secrets difficult. Conte’s penchant for self-promotion didn’t help him either. Conte opened a holistic health center in a San Francisco suburb in 1983. A junior-college dropout, he taught himself biochemistry and nutrition, hoping to devise regimens to help athletes in their quest for victory. Moving from legal nutritional supplements to banned but usually undetectable regimens brought in new customers, including Olympic hopefuls in track and field. Conte’s Internet advertising about “scientific nutrition for advanced conditioning (SNAC)” pointed attentive journalists in his direction. After the raid at BALCO’s headquarters, the reporters discovered that the firm’s Internet site “was a who’s who of elite athletes who were somehow involved with an enterprise that had been targeted by federal law enforcement.” The site named 65 athletes and “the entire rosters of several professional teams,” all of whom were supposed to have used the company’s “nutrition.” The reporters produced three scoops in succession: the formation of the grand jury, the subpoena issued to Bonds, and the fact that agents had seized steroids in the BALCO raid. But Fainaru-Wada and Williams still could not name offending athletes in print without airtight confirmation. When then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft indicted Conte for steroid dealing and money laundering, names of specific athletes using the steroids appeared nowhere. Because of their celebrity, the athletes were receiving favorable treatment not usually granted to subjects of grand jury indictments. Eventually, thanks to tireless information gathering, the San Francisco Chronicle named seven athletes using performance-enhancing substances supplied by BALCO. Of the athletes named, Bonds is the primary character, given his single-season home-run record, perhaps the best-known achievement in professional sports history. Bonds had achieved stardom on the baseball field long before hooking up with BALCO. Even with steroids, few humans can hit a 95-mile-an-hour fastball with a thin piece of wood, make a diving catch of a line drive hit to left field, or throw a baseball with enough velocity from left field to prevent a run scoring at home plate. So although the steroids didn’t make Bonds a Major League Baseball player, they perhaps did help him achieve certain athletic goals more readily. Should that mean prosecution within the criminal justice system? Should it mean disciplinary action meted out by MLB? Should it mean invalidation of Bonds’ achievements in the record books of the future? In Love Me, Hate Me, his biography of Bonds, Jeff Pearlman wrestles with those questions. A former staff writer at Sports Illustrated and Newsday, Pearlman is a master of on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand colloquy. On the one hand, Bonds did not break any MLB rules when he started using steroids in 1998, because the official ban did not occur until five years later. On the other hand, baseball players are not immune from the laws of the United States, and it is against the law to possess and use steroids without documented medical need, as set out in the Controlled Substances Act. The chief value of Pearlman’s biography is its attempt to understand the immensely unpopular superstar athlete from the inside out. Tracking down individuals from Bonds’ past, Pearlman finds his former Cub Scout leader, who reveals the sense of privilege the troubled Bonds felt even at age eight. A college teammate says Bonds used people for selfish ends, then denied knowing them. But Pearlman also quotes a Kansas woman who housed the college student Bonds during a summer league. The woman cites his friendly behavior that summer, as well as his generosity to her son then and many years into the future. The biography focuses on Barry Bonds’ father, Bobby, a Major League Baseball star in his own right. Bobby Bonds became an alcoholic before turning professional, and he sometimes stepped onto the baseball field drunk. Growing up as the child of an alcoholic marked Barry Bonds forever, writes Pearlman. JUICING THE GAME As expansive as Pearlman’s book is narrow, Juicing the Game, by sports writer Howard Bryant, provides a contrast. Bryant includes every viewpoint imaginable — those of current players, former players, managers, coaches, trainers, beat journalists, club owners, union representatives, fans, high school teachers, statisticians, legislators, government regulators, and medical researchers. A few have advocated an end to performance-enhancing substances for many years. As for the rest, well, their failures to grapple with the blight of steroids constitute an encyclopedia of denial. Bryant delves back further than the confessions of Caminiti and Canseco. An especially telling case involves the 1996 season of Brady Anderson, an outfielder for the Baltimore Orioles. By that year, everybody around baseball, including journalists, knew that lots of players were legally ingesting creatine, described by Bryant as “a dietary supplement that had been on the market for years but had been relegated to the fringes of power sports such as weightlifting and football.” The substance “enabled an athlete to extend his workout, sometimes by as much as 40 percent beyond his natural limits, and because it allowed a player to work out harder and longer, it also enabled that player to grow stronger.” Before beginning his creatine-fueled workouts, Anderson hit just 10 home runs in his first four MLB seasons. In 1996, he hit 50 home runs. Previously muscular but thin, Anderson started to look like a professional football player. As Bryant makes clear, lots of baseball players began to transform their bodies by breaking the rules. Bonds became the most prominent when he surpassed the single-season home-run record, so it makes sense for the new books to single him out. If Bonds is punished by Major League Baseball or the federal government, I will be cheering. But my cheers will sound muffled unless the other cheating athletes and their enablers suffer punishment along with Bonds.
Steve Weinberg is a director of the National Book Critics Circle. He lives in Columbia, Mo.

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