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Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports [Paperback]

Mark Fainaru-Wada , Lance Williams
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 6 2007

In the summer of 1998 two of baseball leading sluggers, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, embarked on a race to break Babe Ruth’s single season home run record. The nation was transfixed as Sosa went on to hit 66 home runs, and McGwire 70. Three years later, San Francisco Giants All-Star Barry Bonds surpassed McGwire by 3 home runs in the midst of what was perhaps the greatest offensive display in baseball history. Over the next three seasons, as Bonds regularly launched mammoth shots into the San Francisco Bay, baseball players across the country were hitting home runs at unprecedented rates. For years there had been rumors that perhaps some of these players owed their success to steroids. But crowd pleasing homers were big business, and sportswriters, fans, and officials alike simply turned a blind eye. Then, in December of 2004, after more than a year of investigation, San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams broke the story that in a federal investigation of a nutritional supplement company called BALCO, Yankees slugger Jason Giambi had admitted taking steroids. Barry Bonds was also implicated. Immediately the issue of steroids became front page news. The revelations led to Congressional hearings on baseball’s drug problems and continued to drive the effort to purge the U.S. Olympic movement of drug cheats. Now Fainaru-Wada and Williams expose for the first time the secrets of the BALCO investigation that has turned the sports world upside down.

Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroid Scandal That Rocked Professional by award- winning investigative journalists Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, is a riveting narrative about the biggest doping scandal in the history of sports, and how baseball’s home run king, Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants, came to use steroids. Drawing on more than two years of reporting, including interviews with hundreds of people, and exclusive access to secret grand jury testimony, confidential documents, audio recordings, and more, the authors provide, for the first time, a definitive account of the shocking steroids scandal that made headlines across the country.

The book traces the career of Victor Conte, founder of the BALCO laboratory, an egomaniacal former rock musician and self-proclaimed nutritionist, who set out to corrupt sports by providing athletes with “designer” steroids that would be undetectable on “state-of-the-art” doping tests. Conte gave the undetectable drugs to 28 of the world’s greatest athletes—Olympians, NFL players and baseball stars, Bonds chief among them.

A separate narrative thread details the steroids use of Bonds, an immensely talented, moody player who turned to performance-enhancing drugs after Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals set a new home run record in 1998. Through his personal trainer, Bonds gained access to BALCO drugs. All of the great athletes who visited BALCO benefited tremendously—Bonds broke McGwire’s record—but many had their careers disrupted after federal investigators raided BALCO and indicted Conte. The authors trace the course of the probe, and the baffling decision of federal prosecutors to protect the elite athletes who were involved.

Highlights of Game of Shadows include:

Barry Bonds

  • A look at how Bonds was driven to use performance-enhancing drugs in part by jealousy over Mark McGwire’s record-breaking 1998 season. It was shortly thereafter that Bonds—who had never used anything more performance enhancing than a protein shake from the health food store—first began using steroids.
  • How Bonds’s weight trainer, steroid dealer Greg Anderson, arranged to meet Victor Conte before the 2001 baseball season with...


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Review

"A sober, skillful and utterly damning account of not just the Bonds fiasco but the pervasive influence of steroids in sports."—Los Angeles Times



"Devastating. . . . groundbreaking. . . . Necessary reading for anyone concerned with the steroids era in baseball and track and field and its fallout on sports history."—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times



"A compelling portrait of conspiracy. . . . Fascinating."—The Boston Globe



"Scorching. . . . A testament to baseball’s failure."—Newsweek



"Superb. . . . Important and disturbing."—San Francisco Chronicle



"The evidence is detailed, damning, and overwhelming. . . . It’s a growing bonfire of controversy. This book is one of the matches."—The Philadelphia Inquirer



"[Fainaru-Wada and Williams] have got the goods and they reveal them methodically. Everything is well-sourced and meticulously explicated."—Chicago Tribune



“A shocking exposé of the seedy side of pro sports that underscores just how easy it is to cheat.”—Entertainment Weekly

About the Author

Mark Fainaru-Wada is an investigative reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. After fifteen months of covering steroid use in sports, in December 2004 they reported in the Chronicle on the secret grand jury testimony of pro baseball players Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds, making headlines around the world. Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams won the Dick Schaap Excellence in Sports Journalism Award, the George Polk Award, and the White House Correspondents’ Association’s Edgar A. Poe Award for their reporting.
Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada are reporters on the investigative team at the San Francisco Chronicle. Together, they broke a series of exclusive stories on the BALCO scandal and earned a string of national honors, including the George Polk Award, The Edgar A. Poe Award of the White House Correspondents’ Association, The Dick Schaap Excellence in Sports Journalism Award and The Associated Press Sports Editors award for investigative reporting.

Williams has written on subjects including the California cocaine trade, Oakland’s Black Panther Party and the career of San Francisco mayor and political power-broker Willie Brown. His journalism also has been honored with: the Gerald Loeb Award for financial writing; the California Associated Press’ Fairbanks Award for public service; and, on three occasions, the Center for California Studies' California Journalism Award for political reporting. He was the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California Journalist of the Year in 1999.

Born in Ohio, he graduated from Brown University and the University of California-Berkeley and attended University College, London, U.K. Before joining the Chronicle, he worked as a reporter at the Hayward Daily Review, the Oakland Tribune, and the San Francisco Examiner. He was a University of Michigan Journalism Fellow in 1986-87.


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On a steamy May morning in 2001, at North Carolina State University, Victor Conte could see it all coming together. Read the first page
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Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Nothing we didn't know already Jan. 27 2008
Format:Paperback
Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems like everything in this book was basically covered by the newspapers as it happened. Everyone knows that Bonds got huge right before he broke the single season record. Everyone knows Giambi took steroids... it was in every paper in the world.

I would call this book a combination of: a) summary of commonly known things about Bonds and steroids b) an examination of steroids in track and field - specifically sprinting - 100m - 200m. The overlap being that everyone allegedly bought their steroids from BALCO.

I suppose when it came out, it provided some insights but reading it in January 2008 sort of gives it a dated/no longer relevent feel.

I don't think this book will be perpetuated anywhere near as long as Canseco's "Juiced" - which provides a more insider and less judgemental explanation of steroids in baseball.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Not shocking when one considers! Aug. 13 2006
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
I started reading this book on recommendation of my son, a professional sports aficionado like myself. He hinted it might have something profound to say about the dark underside of the modern sports scene. Okay! Let me think. Might it have to do with new revelations and concerns about pervasive illicit drug use in professional baseball and 'amateur' track-and-field? As I got into the book, I discovered that the story took a less sensational and constructive tack. It had just as much to say about people's obsession with immortality as it did about the sordid world of steroid huckersterism as seen in the nefarious workings of Conte and BALCO. If the reader keeps in mind that this book is both a timely reportage on an alarming trend in major sporting circles and a commentary on the deline of an American icon, the time reading will be well spent. Now for that profundity alluded to earlier. The use of performance enhancing steroids in baseball in 'improving' athletic achievement on the field is not the news. Rather, it is that the various leagues and franchises, are powerless to stop it because they have been complicit from the start as their way of filling seats and increasing revenue. The fact that Major League Baseball still allows the Giambis and Bonds of this world to play without a legal challenge is both the greater tragedy and farce of the book. A solid and engrossing read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  197 reviews
91 of 110 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Sad Cautionary Tale Broader Than the More Publicized Bonds Disclosures March 25 2006
By Ed Uyeshima - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It's hard not to feel a profound sense of disappointment after reading this comprehensive, well-written investigative report on the abuse of steroids by athletes blinded by their need to be victorious in their various fields. While Barry Bonds is the primary subject here, San Francisco Chronicle reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada are not as interested in sabotaging the star player's legacy-in-the-making as they are in exposing the breadth of impact that Victor Conte, founder of BALCO (an acronym for the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative), had in plying a number of star athletes with performance-enhancing drugs.

The reporters have done a remarkable job documenting the history of steroids, which were used as far back as the 1976 Summer Olympics where the East German women all too handily dominated the swimming events. One revelation for me from the book is how steroids do not directly enhance athletic performance but allow a greater endurance to train harder with a decreasing chance of injury and no need for recovery time. This nuance is critical in understanding how athletes can justify using such risky substances and escape accountability for their actions. This is the moral twist of the book and the one that resonates most clearly as a cautionary tale for future athletes in assessing their options.

Just as intriguing is the detailed chronicle of the rise and fall of the enterprising Conte, who went from being a bass guitarist for Tower of Power to the owner of a holistic health clinic to a highly paid consultant for renowned Olympic and professional athletes. Conte's real fortunes began with his discovery of a means to provide performance-enhancing drugs which would elude detection. At first, he saw the availability of obviously illegal steroids to targeted athletes as an opportunity to get them to endorse his legal nutritional supplements. Demand, however, went beyond his expectations, and he refocused his energy to identify creative ways to get the drugs into athletes, whether by injections, ointments or drips under the tongue.

At the center of the BALCO distribution scandal has been Bonds, who is certainly held up as the highest profile athlete under Conte's spell. The co-authors paint an alternately sympathetic and unflattering portrait of a prodigiously gifted athlete cast under the shadow of his father Bobby. The portrayal doesn't come across so much as exploitative as it does a typical case study into the competitive mindset of a professional athlete. Triggered by Mark McGwire's record-breaking 70 home runs during the 1998 season, Bonds was apparently determined to surpass McGwire by turning to steroids to bulk up his physique in the same way. His constant connection was personal trainer Greg Anderson, and through the next five seasons, Bonds' usage escalated and became more clandestine.

The result has been a stellar performance on the field with a hulking physique to match his superman-like transformation. Off the field, he evolved into a raging egomaniac not above cheating on his taxes or his wife. These are hostile allegations but ones that Williams and Fainaru-Wada support with reams of testimony by intimates and colleagues. In 2001, Bonds beat McGwire's single-season home run record, and he is on his way to beating Hank Aaron's career home run record this coming season. At the same time, Conte and Anderson, thanks to expert plea bargaining, saw minimal prison time for their actions. Whether Bonds is being held up as a scapegoat seems rather moot, as I cannot help but feel this will be an empty victory given the ample evidence the co-authors provide here. With Bonds' evasive responses in the press and the inevitable slander lawsuits, one gets little sense that there will by any abatement on the problem at hand.
34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gorgeous @}->--- April 21 2006
By Little Miss Cutey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As a fan of NBC Today, I've seen many segments that Mike Leonard has done. He is hilarious and unique and one story he did in particular, was a cross country journey with his parents and one of his daughters in an RV. I saw it and I loved it. His parents are adorable and funny too and they represent the kind of family you wished you belonged to (though I'm happy with my family). Apparently this story was one of their most memorable stories that's been done.

When you buy the book, it has the dvd along with it with the highlights of their vacation. They went through 18 States and were together throughout the whole time. It was an 8 thousand mile journey that ended with Mikes daughter giving birth (to Mikes parents first great-grandchild).

He wanted to write this book because it's relatable to so many families. And it is. It's funny and touching and heartwarming and so many other things in between.

I really recommend this book because as Mike thinks, it is relatable to so many people and it's interesting and entertaining and you'll really have a good laugh and enjoy it thoroughly. Great book.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not fun to read, but it's not meant to be. June 16 2006
By M J Heilbron Jr. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"Game of Shadows" is about...well, heck...you KNOW what it's about.

As a baseball fan, I found myself a little sad about the whole thing. So much about the last few years seems kinda bogus. Maris didn't deserve an asterisk. Bonds does, I think.

As a physician, I found myself a little scared. These guys are doing things to their bodies that's gonna kill 'em early, and kill 'em in foul ways. It's sickening to think how their metabolisms have been manipulated to create inhuman athletes; these people are not natural...they were not created by nature. They are artificial. They're Frankenstein's monsters.

As a moral person, I found myself angry. This is cheating, plain and simple, and it's being done in front of the most loyal yet impressionable fans...the kids.

The only problem with the book is the shrill and repetitive Bonds-bashing that gets a little old by the end. It's almost like the authors are really angry with Bonds; you get the sense that their personal feelings and sensibilities were hurt. Listen...I'm with you guys. No way does a basbeball player have not only the best years of his career, but the best years of ANYBODY'S career, after the age of 35, without SOME additional support. But sometimes the tone of the book is like that of a spurned lover out for revenge. A little too vituperative.

But hey...this is an important book. There is no doubt that Bonds' legacy is in question. The question you should have, and the one I surely have, is why hasn't baseball shut this down. Please...they are still punishing Pete Rose, yet this has all happened in front of their noses and they seem to look away. The argument could be made that the public wants the long ball, and this is the way to get it.

I say the public wants to see the game played hard and fair. Cleaning up this business would prove that the baseball administrators really are who they say they are: fans just like us.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ONE MAN'S FAMILY, WHAT A FAMILY! WHAT A BOOK & DVD. March 13 2007
By Kay's Husband - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
My wife read this book and told me about it, then we watched the DVD which accompanies the book. Change of pace reading for me from history or westerns, and a very refreshing one indeed.

While the book and DVD have some poignant segments, it is equally balanced with some outright comical segments. Mike Leonard's parents and the entire Leonard clan are pleasant to meet and this inside look into a zany, lovable group of people is one the reader will not soon forget. Come on, read it. I didn't think I'd care for it, either; but I loved it.

This book should get an award for not only its great American family profile but for its inventiveness. There are still real people out there and the foundations of the real America still exits.

Hats off to one of the more enjoyable reads/views I've ever experienced.

Well recommended. This book will restore any doubts one may have about our country.

Semper Fi.
85 of 108 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Every word of it true April 2 2006
By Jason A. Miller - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Let's get my credentials out of the way. I am not someone that baseball is going to "lose" if they don't solve the steroids problem. However, I take the allegations in "Game of Shadows" very, very seriously, and I'm not going to be celebrating any of Barry Bonds' home runs between now and 756.

I've been a baseball fan since the 1981 strike, when I discovered the game through its absence on TV and radio. I went to my first game at Shea Stadium in 1982 on the day that I turned 8 and a half. Mookie Wilson homered that day. He was not, as far as we know, on steroids. Mike Schmidt did not play for the Phillies that day, due to an injury. Schmidt recently came out with a book denouncing steroids, a book that's selling slightly fewer copies than "Game of Shadows".

Even though I raised myself a Mets fan, a team that a few years later rose and fell at the altar of white powder, I did grow up in a Yankees' household, and always took Roger Maris' record very seriously. I was moved and impressed when Mark McGwire brought the Maris family along on September 8, 1998, and made them such a central part of Number 62. When Barry Bonds later said he wanted to "take" Babe Ruth's record for career homers by a left-handed hitter and then warned us to "don't talk about him no more", I was not quite as moved, and certainly not impressed.

Bonds and Marion Jones are not the only big revelations in "Game of Shadows". Who would have imagined that such Bay Area fringe players as Armando Rios and Randy Velarde were BALCO customers? Then again, we learned from Jose Canseco's book last year that steroids alone do not make one a great athlete.

"Game of Shadows" is a remarkable work of investigative journalism. When I read books like this I always pay attention to the sources and footnotes. "Game of Shadows" is better footnoted than a typical Bob Woodward book, although for obvious reasons reveals fewer source names than a less controversial sports biography like "Namath". The authors make good use of Bonds' pre- and post-steroid statistics in their appendices. They're not able to name all of their sources, but the rest of the reporting has the ring of authenticity so I can accept that they did their best to verify all their interviews with anonymous sources "familiar with Bonds" or "familiar to Conte".

The only part of the book that disturbed me, for a moment, was the blatant editorializing. It's not enough for the authors to document that Victor Conte systematically sought to provide performance-enhancing drugs to an increasing roster of high-profile athletes, and it's not enough for them to prove that Barry Bonds injected himself with the whole range of Conte pharmaceuticals. They do descend to name-calling. Conte's departure from the group Tower of Power is turned into something creepy; his family's own legal problems, which don't appear related to BALCO, are also brought into the light of day. In the brief section describing Bonds' claiming of the single-season home run record in October 2001, his victory speech is described as "rambling".

However, even the editorial comments can be seen as objective journalism. Bonds himself has made increasingly bizarre public statements part of his public persona. And where the authors reprint some of the immature things Conte chose to submit to the Usenet forum, those Usenet posts are public record; anyone can access them even today, and when you do, you'll see that the authors didn't even use the most inflammatory Conte quotes. Conte's online persona, at least, is worthy of scorn.

What happens next? The book's final chapter and its epilogue show how both baseball (Bud Selig, Donald Fehr) and the government (the U.S. Attorney for San Francisco) have attempted to sweep the steroids mess under the carpet. The government seemed more interested in plugging leaks than in punishing lawbreakers. The authors reveal conflicts between USADA, the IRS and John McCain on one hand, and federal prosecutors on the other. The final chapter closes with a San Francisco Giants' flack defending Bonds' achievements, in spite of all the documentary evidence of fraud. This book wants to make baseball fans angry when the government and baseball officials will silently acquiesce to Bonds' history-making.

Hank Aaron's all-time home run record is going to fall one day. It would be nice to be able to root for the man who breaks it. I gave my best to Mark McGwire in 1998, and evidently all for nothing. I am not going to be fooled again so easily.
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