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Barry Bonds convicted of obstruction of justice: Two books tell the backstory

April 13, 2011 |  4:10 pm


Barry Bonds was convicted of obstruction of justice Wednesday in Federal Court in San Francisco. A mistrial was declared on two other counts.

The case, of course, was about performance-enhancing drugs. Our sibling blog L.A. Now explains: "Bonds was charged with four federal felony counts for denying under oath to a grand jury in 2003 that he had knowingly used steroids or human growth hormones and for maintaining that his personal trainer, Greg Anderson, had never injected him."

The investigation was sparked by reports in the San Francisco Chronicle that connected Bonds to BALCO, (the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative), which selling illegal performance-enhancing drugs to professional athletes. Reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams later expanded their stories into the book "Game of Shadows," essential reading for anyone trying to get a handle on Barry Bonds and what Wednesday's conviction might mean.

"I can't help seeing Bonds' performance through a tragic filter, as an emblem of everything that he -- and baseball -- has lost," David L. Ulin wrote in our review of "Game of Shadows" in 2006. Ulin continues:

"Game of Shadows" is a sober, skillful and utterly damning account of not just the Bonds fiasco but the pervasive influence of steroids in sports. Beginning with Victor Conte, the Bay Area self-promoter who founded BALCO, the book is less about personalities than the culture of athletics, where winning is the bottom line, regardless of cost....

[M]oral relativism is what's most disturbing about the BALCO scandal, and nowhere more than in regard to Bonds. (Bonds has consistently denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs.) In Fainaru-Wada and Williams' telling, he is spoiled, self-absorbed, insecure -- thuggish and abusive....

It's a heartbreaking portrait: Bonds, perhaps the most gifted pure player of his generation, a five-tool guy who won three MVP awards before age 30, turns to steroids out of envy over Mark McGwire's homer chase of 1998.

"As McGwire's pursuit of the home run record became the constant topic of the nation's media, and as McGwire was celebrated as the best slugger of the modern era and perhaps the greatest slugger who had ever lived, Bonds became more jealous than people who knew him well had ever seen," the authors write. Although "Bonds himself had never used anything more performance enhancing than a protein shake," McGwire's success, they suggest, convinced him that he had no choice.

Not that McGwire used steroids. Or at least, for five years, that's what he said. When Jose Canseco's tell-all "Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big," which maintained Canseco himself had injected McGwire with performance-enhancing drugs, McGwire absolutely denied the charge.

"Once and for all, I did not use steroids nor any illegal substance," McGwire told 60 Minutes in a statement. "I feel sorry to see someone turn to such drastic measures to accomplish a personal agenda at the expense of so many. The relationship that these allegations portray couldn't be further from the truth."

At the time, many connected to baseball were dismissive of Canseco's charges. "I honestly do not believe Mark ever cheated," Tony La Russa, the Oakland A's manager told the L.A. Times. "I've seen the guy pay the price. I know he's personally upset about it. He's upset for his teammates, and he's concerned about his legacy.... [Canseco] wasn't with us. He was an embarrassment. He was an embarrassment from 1990 on. Now, I think part of it is money. Part of it is jealousy."

Although Canseco's story was sensational and dismissed in many quarters, it has proved to not be quite as far from the truth as it first appeared.

McGwire has never come out and said that the particulars of Canseco's stories are true, exactly. But in January 2010, as a hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals, he did admit to having taken steroids. In a statement released to the Associated Press, he said:

I never knew when, but I always knew this day would come. It's time for me to talk about the past and to confirm what people have suspected. I used steroids during my playing career and I apologize. I remember trying steroids very briefly in the 1989/1990 off-season and then after I was injured in 1993, I used steroids again. I used them on occasion throughout the '90s, including during the 1998 season.

To get the backstory of Barry Bonds and steroid use in major league baseball, the books "Game of Shadows," by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams and Jose Canseco's "Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big" are invaluable. For the end of the story -- well, we'll have to wait and see.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Barry Bonds in 2006. Credit: Damon Winter / Los Angeles Times