End Of Line?

Time has come for Bonds to make his final out now

March 08, 2006|By JOHN EISENBERG

A year ago, Jose Canseco's bombshell book about steroids was the talk of spring training. Some of the unsubstantiated accusations the retired slugger threw out surely were true, but his shaky reputation undercut his efforts to expose baseball's shameful secret.

The steroids book making headlines this year doesn't suffer from the same lack of credibility. In fact, it's the opposite of Canseco's, grounded in rock-solid reporting.

That's bad news for Barry Bonds, and just as bad for baseball until Bonds can be persuaded to do the right thing and go away forever.

Game of Shadows, by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, the two San Francisco Chronicle reporters who repeatedly broke news during the BALCO investigation, depicts Bonds using a vast array of performance-enhancing drugs, including steroids and human growth hormone, for at least five seasons beginning in 1998.

Neither of these authors are, like Canseco, a where-are-they-now jock just trying to get attention and collect maybe one more payday. To the contrary, they're veteran reporters who know exactly what they're doing.

They got Bonds.

The San Francisco Giants slugger can deny, deny, deny, as he always has and probably always will. "I won't even look at [the book]; there's no reason to," he told reporters yesterday at the Giants' camp in Arizona. He said he was not even aware the book existed until reporters told him.

But Game of Shadows, excerpts of which are running in the latest Sports Illustrated, offers powerful evidence that his denials are as worthless as the numbers he put up while juicing like it was 1999.

The authors investigated Bonds for two years, pouring over more than a thousand pages of documents. Their sources included court documents, affidavits filed by BALCO investigators, documents written by federal agents, grand jury testimony, audio recordings and interviews with more than 200 people.

Forget that ridiculous ESPN reality show Bonds is taping this spring. The reality of his career is on the pages of this book. The authors write that "more than a dozen people either had been told directly that [Bonds] was using banned drugs, had seen him using the drugs with their own eyes, or had been provided with information that made the conclusion he was doping inescapable."

The timing couldn't be worse for baseball, even though rumors about the book had circulated for months, and speculation about Bonds using steroids is about as shocking at this point as the Orioles finishing in fourth place.

With 708 career home runs, Bonds, 41, needs just six more to tie Babe Ruth for second on the all-time list, a hallowed spot in sports history. He should get there by the end of May if his sore knee holds up. Then it's on to Hank Aaron, the all-time leader with 755.

Ugh.

Someone needs to persuade him to go away. In the wake of Game of Shadows, someone needs to explain to him that it would be utterly disastrous for him to pass Ruth and Aaron with this abject stain on his name.

Baseball has enough ongoing image problems without having to go through the humiliation of watching its greatest historical feats fall to a player portrayed in this book as a prodigious drug cheat.

Of course, persuading Bonds to walk away will be next to impossible. Who is going to do it, the Giants? His longtime employers wouldn't dare. Nor would commissioner Bud Selig because, well, it's just a book that outed him. Cycling star Lance Armstrong has been the subject of a handful of books (mostly by European journalists) accusing him of drug use, and he has survived them all to become a legend.

On the other hand, Bonds had already pronounced himself weary of the ceaseless scrutiny in recent years, and if this latest round swells, it could push him beyond his limit, whatever it is.

The truth hurts.

The Canseco book, for all its shortcomings, did provide an important service, effectively waking up the public, not to mention Selig, to the need for a more purposeful investigation into steroids. The first anniversary of the infamous congressional hearing is fast approaching.

It's mind-boggling to consider what has happened since then, starting with the free fall of the Oriole who pointed his finger at congressman that day and vowed that he was clean.

The news of Rafael Palmeiro's subsequent positive test last August was the next important chapter in baseball's slow slide away from steroids, and now comes the most important chapter of all - uncovering the truth about Bonds.

It's out there now, in the pages of a book that can't be denigrated. The only thing left for Bonds to do is recognize he's been checkmated and give up.

john.eisenberg@baltsun.com

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