Bonds: Steroid use unintended

Despite testimony from Bonds, his steroid use is loud and clear

December 04, 2004|By JOHN EISENBERG

IN THE LONG, winding tale of Barry Bonds and steroids, we have reached the part where Bonds plays dumb.

A lot dumber than he is.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, he effectively told a grand jury a year ago that he used steroids in 2003, but didn't know they were steroids.

In other words, he smoked but didn't inhale.

When Bill Clinton claimed the latter a decade ago regarding rumors about his marijuana use years earlier, much of the country rolled its eyes at the slippery escape from a full admission.

Bonds' claim of ignorance deserves about the same respect.

He used two kinds of steroids but thought they were flaxseed oil and a rubbing balm for arthritis?


He blindly used substances given to him by his personal trainer, currently indicted on charges of conspiring to distribute steroids, without wondering or caring that they might be steroids?


And Bonds "didn't understand" the reams of evidence federal prosecutors showed him, indicating he had used steroids and human growth hormones over a three-year period?

If only he were so witless and clueless.

In the 1967 movie A Guide for a Married Man, a character played by actor Robert Morse explains to a friend (played by Walter Matthau) what to do if he gets caught cheating on his wife.

"Deny, deny, deny," Morse says. And do it, he adds, even when confronted with overwhelming evidence, such as actually getting caught in the act.

Sound familiar?

Bonds is a shrewd and meticulous guy. He doesn't often open up to reporters, but when he does, he exhibits plenty of savvy and insight.

He also treats his body with the utmost care, as all top athletes do.

How likely is it that a superstar athlete that smart and controlling would use a substance without knowing what it was? With so many millions and so much history at stake?

About as likely as a slugger finding his record-breaking home run stroke only after turning 35.

But that's what Bonds wants you to believe.

He wants you to think he didn't mislead the grand jury about knowingly using steroids; he just trusted his friend and personal trainer, Greg Anderson, and wound up using steroids because of a lack of communication.

Deny, deny, deny.

Is anyone falling for it? Only 15 percent of the respondents to an poll said yesterday they believed Bonds. That's extremely low. You would probably have a higher percentage saying yes to the idea that the tooth fairy exists.

The 85 percent who responded negatively on are the ones approaching the case with common sense. If they're on the right track, it's possible Bonds perjured himself in front of a grand jury. Not a good idea.

Of course, proving that will be almost impossible. Bonds insisted he didn't know the substances were steroids. He said he thought they were flaxseed oil and an arthritis balm. How are you going to prove he wasn't thinking that? How can you make judgments about the thoughts in his head?

Bonds didn't comment yesterday in the wake of the Chronicle story about his testimony, but he surely is going to stick with the story. It's a slippery defense not easily debunked. It covers him.

Jason Giambi's case is much simpler in the sense that he just up and outed himself, admitting to the same grand jury that he used steroids. But he's in trouble now, the $82 million remaining on his contract possibly in jeopardy. We will see what happens. But there's no gray area regarding his culpability.

With Bonds, everything is gray because he said he didn't know.

Actually, that's not true. One aspect of the story is no longer the least bit gray: Bonds did use steroids.

So much for the notion - trumpeted by Bonds' apologists - that doubters are smearing the guy. This was the yes-or-no question that had tantalized baseball, and the answer is in: Yes, he used.

The admission raises a list of questions baseball will need to address. Do his records deserve an asterisk? (Yes, even though proving how many home runs were tainted will be extremely difficult.) Should he be suspended? (Yes, to send a meaningful message.) Should the players union give in to more stringent testing? (Yes. Please.)

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. This is all based on leaked grand jury testimony, a story in itself. Baseball is scrambling on the issue. Many twists and turns remain.

Bonds? He's playing dumb. And that's one thing he isn't.

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