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Book Review: "Game Of Shadows"

copyright 1973, universal press syndicate

That's what Barry Bonds is. Guilty! Guilty, guilty, guilty!!

It's so clear (and not "The Clear", one of the "designer steroids" Bonds took as described in the book) that I cannot imagine anyone who's read this book -- and I highly recommend this to all of you, because Bonds is, for better or worse, going to be very much in the news in 2006, having hit his 711th HR yesterday, and also since he is now under investigation for possible perjury charges, in that he is thought to have possibly lied to the original grand jury investigating the BALCO steroid scandal.

There are a lot of subplots in this exhaustively-investigated book. First, we learn a bit about Barry Bonds and how he grew up, the pampered son of a major league player, the only black kid in his neighborhood, and how that shaped him as he was growing up -- as the most talented athlete in his high school, and also at Arizona State. There is a telling passage about his time there that foretells some of the ways in which Bonds has acted since he became a major league player:

"I never saw a teammate care about him," his coach, the late Jim Brock, told Sports Illustrated in 1990. "Part of it would his being rude, inconsiderate, and self-centered. He bragged about the money he had turned down, and he popped off about his Dad. I don't think he ever figured out what to do to get people to like him.

Brock was considered tough, demanding and distant. But even he found himself making a different set of rules for Bonds, excusing his objectionable behavior because of his tremendous talent. The coddling started from the day Bonds arrived on campus driving a new Pontiac Trans Am. When his teammates first saw the shiny black car, it was parked in the coach's parking space.

In 1984, Bonds and some teammates were caught breaking curfew, and Bonds mouthed off when the coach confronted then. Momentarily pushed past his limit, Brock blew up and kicked Bonds off the team. After he calmed down, the coach told the other players he had suspended Bonds and asked them to vote on whether to let him return; Brock was confident they would want their best player back. But Bonds was so unpopular that his teammates voted to kick him off the team for good. Before the incident spun further out of control, the coach ordered a second vote, and Bonds was reinstated.

I think you can see here the germ of some of Dusty Baker's managerial techniques -- remember, his first year as a manager was Bonds' first year as a Giant, and the ego (of Bonds, that is) couldn't have gotten smaller by then.

Bonds apparently got the idea to begin taking steroids during the 1998 HR chase between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire; he felt he -- not they -- was the best all-around player in baseball and couldn't stand it that they were getting all the adulation. He told his then-girlfriend that "the powers that be wouldn't let Sosa win it, that they wanted the white guy to have the record."

I'm not making this stuff up, so please don't think I am being a racist here, since I am not. All of this is well-documented in the book.

There's a lot more, and the book goes into great detail about how BALCO was formed by Victor Conte. You may have seen Conte's self-serving interview on 20/20 after this all broke into the open; what I did not know is that Conte was a self-made man, a street-hustler type who was once a member of the Bay Area funk band Tower of Power. Fascinating character study.

The book names quite a few baseball names, most of which are now public, and also goes into detail on how BALCO provided steroids to various Olympic athletes, including Kelli White and Marion Jones, and how there was a race against time to "clean up" some 2004 Olympians so that the entire USA track team wouldn't be disqualified, since Olympic testing standards are much more stringent than those in baseball.

Barry Bonds is a very sad, sad case. He IS a tremendously talented baseball player -- or at least has been; you can tell that his knees are just about shot and he may be trying to hang on just long enough to hit HR #715, so he can have the most for any left-handed hitter -- and was a Hall of Fame player even BEFORE his fateful 1998 decision to do steroids. He is NOT a very nice human being, which is too bad; had be been so, he'd surely have been the most admired athlete of his generation.

Instead, he is mostly reviled, except, apparently, by Giants fans, who don't seem to care about any of this if he helps their team win. I cannot say how I'd feel if he were a Cub; I can only say I'm glad he's not, so I don't have to make that decision. It is instructive to note that when this book was released and excerpts published in Sports Illustrated, Bonds' public statements didn't deny any of the allegations in the book -- all he did was criticize the reporters for supposedly leaking sealed grand jury transcripts.

The current investigation should worry Barry Bonds. The book details a similar investigation into NBA star Chris Webber, and notes that Webber only avoided jail time

... because a key prosecution witness died from a heart attack. Webber was forced to plead guilty to contempt, pay a huge fine, and publicly admit he lied under oath.

There's also the possibility the feds will come after Bonds for tax evasion. The book details how he bought a house for his girlfriend in Arizona, paid for with cash he got for signing autographs at card shows (and further, he got her around the federal cash-reporting requirements by asking her to deposit the money in her accounts in amounts less than the $10,000 that would trigger those reports)... and didn't report this money to the IRS. Tax evasion is the reason Pete Rose spent time in federal prison.

This is an important book, and the story told within is not over. All of you should read it.

And my personal opinion is -- I absolutely hate the adulation that ESPN is currently giving to Barry Bonds; he's probably hit about 100 more HR than he would have with a "normal" career progression, and it is my hope that he never, ever hits another one.