Shortly after Jose Canseco's tell-all JUICED came out in 2005, with allegations of rampant steroid use, the House of Representatives held hearings on the situation. Among the players interviewed by the committee were Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, and ex-big leaguer Mark McGuire, who broke Roger Maris's single season mark of 61 home runs in 1998 (eclipsed by Barry Bonds's 73 a few years later).
Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams --- both investigative reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle --- point to the McGuire-Sosa spectacle as the watershed event in Bonds's psyche. He already had been recognized as one of the best of his generation, perhaps of all time, but his anger at the attention paid to McGuire, whom he considered an inferior, one-dimensional player, seemed to be the turning point in his decision to turn to pharmaceutical assistance.
(There's an infusion of racism when discussing Bonds that has become unseemly. One has to wonder: if Sammy Sosa, a Latino player, had won the home run crown that year, would Bonds have felt differently?)
To paraphrase Shakespeare, the fault lies not in the "stars" of the game, but in the front offices. The authors note that the Giants' management had no interest "in precipitating a drug scandal the year before the opening of [their] new ballpark, where Bonds was supposed to be the main gate attraction." Similarly, the powers-that-be in the Commissioner's office turned a blind eye, delaying in dealing with the problem as long as possible.
As Bonds passes Babe Ruth and presumably continues towards the all-time record set by Hank Aaron in 1974, he has become almost an embarrassment, the black sheep of the baseball family that no one really likes to talk about, as well as the elephant in the closet that just can't be ignored.
The first part of the book deals with Victor Conte, the "mastermind" behind BALCO --- the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative --- that supplied performance-enhancing drugs to several top shelf athletes. Then there's Greg Anderson, the personal trainer who first introduced Bonds to steroids, turning the outfielder from "a long and lean…muscular version of a marathon runner…into an NFL linebacker with broad shoulders, a wide chest, and huge biceps."
It's well known that there's no love lost between Bonds and the media. He has been accused of being less than a friend to the fourth establishment. Can books such as this be construed as payback? Hmmmm.
There is little new in GAME OF SHADOWS. Reports of steroid use have been going on for years. By releasing it this year, as Bonds continues his assault, rather than last, when the Congressional hearings were a hot topic, the publisher has taken a big gamble that fans haven't been overloaded with steroids. The authors obviously have done their homework, but after a while the reader sees Bonds as mean and misguided, and Conte as the real villain. The constant barrage of sniping has almost turned Bonds into a sympathetic figure. Almost.
Whether all this translates into sustained sales once the novelty wears off remains to be seen.
Reviewed by Ron Kaplan on March 1, 2007