End of line?

Book: Envy was spark behind Bonds' actions

March 08, 2006|By KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG AND CHILDS WALKER | KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG AND CHILDS WALKER,SUN REPORTERS

In 1998, at age 34, Barry Bonds had one of the best seasons of his baseball career. He hit .303, belted 37 home runs, had 44 doubles, stole 28 bases and drove in 122 runs. He was ranked in the top 10 in the National League in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs scored and total bases. He even won the eighth Gold Glove of his career for outstanding defense in left field. By any measure, statistical or otherwise, Bonds was clearly one of the best players in baseball, if not the best.

The problem was, barely anyone was paying attention.

Baseball was busy celebrating the historic feats of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, both of whom surpassed Roger Maris' single-season home run record that season. McGwire, who finished with 70 home runs, was being hailed as an American hero, described by some as equal parts Babe Ruth and Paul Bunyan. Sosa, who hit 66 home runs and was labeled the game's best ambassador since Cal Ripken.

Sosa won the National League Most Valuable Player Award that year in a landslide, getting 30 of 32 first-place votes. Bonds finished eighth.

Bonds - according to Game of Shadows, a book by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters, excerpts of which are appearing in the latest Sports Illustrated - was furious, especially with the amount of attention McGwire was getting. He considered McGwire an inferior player, one unworthy of so much praise. Fueled by jealousy, Bonds, according to the book, decided that offseason to use performance-enhancing drugs for the first time.

The book - written by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams and based on two years of research, backed up by more than 1,000 pages of documents and over 200 interviews - details Bonds' use of steroids, insulin, EPO and human growth hormone over the next five years, as well as his emergence as one of the greatest power hitters in baseball history.

At an age when many baseball players' physical skills begin to decline, Bonds became bigger, quicker and stronger. In the years since his drug use allegedly began, his home run rate has nearly doubled. He went from being a skinny outfielder with moderate power to the game's most feared hitter.

NYU School of Medicine associate professor Dr. Gary I. Wadler, an expert on the field of drug use in sports and author of the book, Drugs and the Athlete, said the book excerpt simply confirmed what many people have suspected about Bonds for the past few years, but Wadler said even he was surprised at how often Bonds allegedly used performance-enhancing drugs, and how much of them he used.

In the book, Fainaru-Wada and Williams allege that Bonds, with the help of his personal trainer, Greg Anderson, and eventually BALCO owner Victor Conte, took drugs in "every conceivable form," starting with Winstrol in 1998, before taking turns with, among others, Deca-Durabolin, insulin, human growth hormone, testosterone decanoate (a fast-acting steroid know as Mexican beans) and trenbolone, a steroid created to improve the quality of muscle in cattle.

At one point, the book says, Bonds was injecting himself, swallowing as many as 20 pills a day, and ignoring the suggestion that he use the drugs in cycles, giving his body time to recover.

"Most steroid users, they use the stuff for six to 12 weeks, then they take off six to 12 weeks so the body doesn't shut down production," Wadler said. "[Bonds' alleged] cycles seemed pretty short, like about one week. When you do that, you don't give the body a chance to repair the negative things the drugs are doing to it. You're basically just on them all the time."

Bonds put on more than 25 pounds of muscle, and eventually felt he was able to recover from minor injuries more quickly. He even told people he even felt the human growth hormone improved his eyesight, which for years had been exceptional, but had bothered him in 1999.

Wadler said he has never seen any evidence that performance-enhancing drugs could improve someone's eyesight. The benefit, in addition to increased muscle mass, may have simply been psychological for Bonds.

"If you have more acceleration with your bat, you can start your swing a fraction of a second later," Wadler said. "That could be interpreted as being able to track the ball better. And that has a psychological affect. A very big part of steroids is the effect it has on the brain. They make you more assertive and more aggressive, not just stronger."

Dr. Charles Yesalis, an epidemiologist and steroid expert at Penn State, said he has heard claims that human growth hormone might improve vision, but said he can't understand why, scientifically, that would be the case.

"I don't want to say the benefit doesn't exist," he said. "But I can't say, `Oh, that was in a study by so and so.' "

Yesalis said that mood swings, increased aggression and decreased libido - all behavior attributed to Bonds in the book - are side effects anecdotally attributed to steroid users. But he emphasized that no one has performed an epidemiological study of long-term effects. "We don't have a clue," he said.

At the very least, Wadler said, Bonds could be looking at long-term health problems from excessive steroid use.

"Some of the things are predictable," Wadler said. "There is a feminization that occurs. Users get enlarged breasts, their testicles shrink, their sperm count goes down. What's unpredictable are things like premature heart disease, heart attack, stroke, fatal arrhythmia. It's really a crapshoot in many ways, but risk of death is very real."

kevin.vanvalkenburg@baltsun.com

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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