Book on juice scandal not pulp fiction

June 11, 2006|By DAN CONNOLLY | DAN CONNOLLY,SUN REPORTER

Three months after the hype and headlines, I have finally read Game of Shadows, the book by two San Francisco Chronicle investigative reporters who broke open the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) steroid scandal.

Before turning the first page, several fellow baseball writers had already shared their feelings about the book. One said it read like a 250-page newspaper article. Another said there was too much track and field and not enough focus on San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds, whose back adorns the front cover.

Another writer said he started it but couldn't finish it.

Here's my take: It's not an easy read, but invest the time. It's worth it to get a blow-by-blow account of what has become one of the most fascinating and disturbing periods in the history of sport.

More than anything, though, Game of Shadows left me with a pervasive, sinking feeling that this drug-stained era is far from over.

And that the worst is yet to come.

That was substantiated last week when news broke that according to a federal affidavit former Orioles reliever Jason Grimsley admitted to a federal investigator - the same IRS official who led the charge against BALCO - that he used human growth hormone for several years. And so have other players, according to the affidavit in which Grimsley names names.

Sadly, the shock is gone. There's little room for anger that the public is still being duped. You can't even blame the media anymore for turning a watchful eye away from record-breaking sluggers with body-by-bottle physiques.

No, what lingers here is a sense of dread, a helplessness that we'll never really know who is clean and who isn't because the cheaters are a step, or many steps, ahead of the crackdown.

When a journeyman reliever is the focus of an intense federal probe, it brings home an important point that is consistent in Game of Shadows.

There is a drug culture in major league baseball, in our sporting world in general. There seemingly is an ingrained belief - one that has been proved effectively time and again - that an athlete can beat the system. And that it's worth the health and professional risks because the financial payoff is so lucrative.

Grimsley, who has a career record of 42-58 and a lifetime 4.77 ERA, made roughly $10 million in 15 major league seasons. That's a pretty big incentive to do whatever's necessary to stay in the game.

According to the affidavit, Grimsley told investigators that he began using the anabolic steroid Deca-Durabolin shortly after 2000 shoulder surgery because of its healing powers. He used other drugs as well, and he failed a Major League Baseball drug test in 2003. But, as part of the collective-bargaining agreement at the time, the test was not publicized.

Grimsley switched to human growth hormone, the affidavit states, when MLB tightened its policy. And he did so because he knew he couldn't get caught since there is no urine test to detect hGH and baseball does not administer a blood test - which some experts say wouldn't be conclusive anyway.

It's the same thinking detailed in Game of Shadows, which alleges that Bonds and other BALCO clients used hGH and myriad undetectable drugs to enhance their athletic performance.

Furthermore, the book states that BALCO founder Victor Conte routinely tested his athletes using blood and urine samples to make sure they looked clean.

For those who argue that Bonds needs to be given the benefit of the doubt because he has never failed a drug test, the book implies that he wouldn't have failed a drug test even at the height of his alleged cheating.

Conte's scheme unraveled only when a rival sent a sample of a previously non-detectable drug to the United States Anti-Doping Agency, according to the book.

And this Grimsley scandal only came to light when the federal government learned he had received an hGH shipment in the U.S. mail and the pitcher confirmed it, according to the affidavit.

Therefore, as much as the media and public call for stronger drug policies, the smoking guns in these stories have come from investigative work, not positive tests.

"You can't only depend on drug testing with doping," said Dr. Gary Wadler, an associate professor at New York University School of Medicine and a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency. "You need good technology and good intelligence. That's what we've seen in BALCO, and what we've seen here, diligence and intelligence."

You also need shame in the court of public opinion.

For there are people out there whose sole focus and passion is to help athletes gain an illegal edge. There are scientists who are fully dedicated to creating undetectable drugs. And there are athletes who are desperate to get and stay at the elite level.

The Jason Grimsley news just substantiated what the book Game of Shadows detailed: This ugly chapter of drugs and cheating in sports is still being written.

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