DELIVERED WITHthe blunt force of a sledgehammer, Game of Shadows is to Barry Bonds what theDowd Report was to Pete Rose in 1989--it destroys the reputation of one ofbaseball's most accomplished players. Whether Bonds never hits another home runor hits 48 more, which would give him the most of all time, he never can beregarded with honor or full legitimacy. Shadows painstakingly catalogs him as aserial drug cheat, and thus the eye-popping stats that he has accrued stand alltoo literally as too good to be true. ¬∂ At the same time, the book smashes theapologia of the blind-eyed supporters in and out of baseball who want tobelieve that what quacks, waddles and swims like a duck is not, in fact, aduck. Only the most delusional cling to the life ring of denial. Rose himself,and his fans who believed more in him than in the truth, perpetuated his fraudfor 17 years, until, in book form, he decided, "Well, O.K., I bet onbaseball."
Then commissionerBart Giamatti, as would any reasonable person who read the Dowd Report, knewbetter and said as much in 1989. At Rose's request, the agreement he signed tobe banned from the game included no official finding on whether he bet onbaseball. At the news conference to announce the agreement, though, Giamattiwas asked if he thought Rose did bet on baseball.
"In theabsence of a hearing and therefore in the absence of evidence to thecontrary...," said Giamatti, who paused, then continued, "I amconfronted by the factual record of Mr. Dowd. On the basis of that, yes, I haveconcluded he bet on baseball."
One majordifference between Shadows and the Dowd Report is that it took two reporters,Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, to ask the questions that formerly werethe responsibility of the commissioner's office. Commissioner Bud Selig,borrowing from the Mark McGwire school of oratory, has made it clear that hewants nothing to do with the past. To confront it would be like trying to cleanup a toxic waste dump--much too messy and dangerous.
With Kafka-esquelogic, Selig has argued that because there were no steroid tests before 2003,there is nothing to investigate. But of course there were no tests because theowners and players didn't want them, and public opinion and the threat ofcongressional intervention had yet to force their hands. Just last month Selig,once again brandishing the argument that collapses upon itself, said,"There is no empirical data that Barry did anything wrong," adding,"There is nothing to investigate."
Such words wouldseem even more evasive, if not downright obstinate, in the wake of Shadows.Selig has made it clear that he won't lift a finger to the record book. Fine.But what he can do is answer the obvious question about Bonds as honestly anddirectly as Giamatti did about Rose, entering confirmation into the publicrecord without erasing the records. In the meantime, anyone who cares aboutbaseball, including Hank Aaron and, eventually, the writers who vote for theHall of Fame, is part of the jury that could assign Bonds forever to the landof make-believe.
In 1998 Bonds hit37 home runs--the fourth-best total of his career but barely more than half ofwhat McGwire hit. The sleek, five-tool player was ignored in the lovefest thatwas the great home run race between McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Jealous of McGwire,and knowing that owners were content to leave steroid use unchecked to cash inon the home run boom, Bonds knew what to do. That off-season, the authorswrite, he began what became a massive doping regimen involving years of use anda cornucopia of drugs. The transformation was like nothing that ever hashappened in the game. Through 1998 Bonds averaged one home run every 16.1 atbats. Since then he has hit home runs almost twice as frequently--one every 8.5at bats. The seven best home run frequency rates of Bonds's career all havecome in the seven seasons since the authors say he began his steroid use.Remember, we're talking about a player who turned 35 years old in the firstseason that the authors say he played while using steroids. At an advancedbaseball age, Bonds has played better than at any other time in his career.
If he passesAaron, Bonds will have hit 345 homers beginning with that season when he turned35--which would be 26% beyond what anyone else ever has done. And with those345 home runs, Bonds would essentially add the equivalent of Joe DiMaggio'sentire career (361 home runs) on top of a career that at age 33 alreadyresembled Frank Robinson's.
How is thatpossible? The authors say that Bonds used at least 10 performance-enhancingdrugs and had such an insatiable appetite for them that he blew off the adviceof his own trainer and took them even when his body was due at least a week'srespite in between steroid cycles.
Is this a HomeRun King? A Hall of Famer? Does having attained a certain level of success givea player carte blanche to do anything he wants thereafter, however illegal,immoral or fraudulent, and still be ushered into Cooperstown as if suchbehavior never happened? Are the brightest senior-year students excused forcheating, the best employees excused for cooking the books, the greatestplayers excused for juicing? Ask if Rafael Palmeiro gets a Hall pass for hispositive steroid test in the last year of his career. Ask if Joe Jackson's .356career batting average gave him the right to abet the fixing of the 1919 WorldSeries. Ask Rose if his 4,256 hits made it O.K. for him to bet on baseball.
With Bondsneeding only seven home runs to pass Babe Ruth and the four dozen to endAaron's 32-year reign as the Home Run King, Game of Shadows arrives just intime. It spares us the indignity of investing wholly into what, cleanlyobtained, could have been the sporting celebration of a lifetime. Instead itchallenges us to reflect not on the greatness of Bonds but on his unworthiness.There is unease in that reality, a discomfort in knowing, as Robert Browningwrote timelessly:
The lie wasdead
And damned, andtruth stood up instead.
For this isbaseball, an institution knocked low when truth no longer resides in itsnumbers.