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Review: Game of Shadows

Nobody who reads Game of Shadows is likely to doubt that Barry Bonds knowingly used illegal drugs. The circumstantial evidence and hearsay testimony are compelling, if not overwhelming.

And nobody who can read a column of numbers will doubt that Bonds's attempt to turn himself into a guy who could hit more homeruns than Mark McGwire via chemical means has been a brilliant success.

Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, the authors of Game of Shadows, maintain that jealousy of McGwire and the attention he received in 1998 drove Bonds to seek the increased size and strength that would lead to more homeruns. The journalists who broke the story of Victor Conte, his Balco drug lab, and the various athletes who'd availed themselves of Conte's chemicals, have presented in Game of Shadows an exceptionally thorough and convincing case against Bonds, Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi, and a host of other stars of baseball, football, and track and field.

In order to document their case, Fainaru-Wada and Williams make use of grand jury testimony that was supposed to have been secret and the reports of the investigators who first interviewed Victor Conte during the raid on his lab. At that time, Conte was apparently a good deal more frank than he is now, as he prepares to leave prison. Even now, Conte doesn't deny that he trafficked in steroids. But for reasons that remain murky, he does deny that he provided Bonds with the drugs that Fainaru-Wada and Williams maintain were part of the slugger's diet for half a dozen years.

Nobody who's followed the story for the past several years and more will be shocked by what Fainaru-Wada and Williams have written. But readers may be surprised to discover what a thoroughly unhappy man Barry Bonds seems to be. Million dollar contracts didn't make him happy. Winning Most Valuable Player Awards didn't do it. He cut himself off from the locker room fraternity that sustains lots of players, establishing a Bonds-only zone in the Giants clubhouse that included several lockers and a huge leather recliner. He was apparently unhappy enough with his wife so that he sought out his mistress as soon as he returned home from his honeymoon, and unhappy enough with his mistress so that he threatened to make her "disappear."

The publication of Game of Shadows has re-energized the discussion of how baseball fans will respond to Bonds as he chases the homerun records of Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron this season. Fainaru-Wada and Williams think Bonds will be cheered in San Francisco, and that when the Giants are on the road, fans will shower him with abuse. Then there's the matter of how Commissioner Bud Selig will respond to the book, the excerpts of which in Sports Illustrated Selig said he hadn't read even after everybody else had. Based on historical precedent, the smart money is on dithering ambivalence. Bonds's employer has already announced that the Giants will celebrate the homerun with which he passes Ruth's career total of 714, but also that the team will cooperate with whatever investigation the commissioner might undertake. Major League Baseball is also planning for a celebration of the record-breaking homeruns, even as Mr. Selig tries to figure out how to prevent the public from dismissing Bonds's pumped-up numbers as bogus.

This program aired on March 23, 2006. The audio for this program is not available.

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