Baseball: Book hits Bonds' steroid denials for ominous home run

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The Independent Online

The list is breathtaking. Winstrol, better known as stanozolol. Deca-Durabolin, or "Deca". Human growth hormone (HGH), said to delay ageing. A couple of all-but-undetectable concoctions known as "the cream" and "the clear" - the latter referred to by some athletes as "rocket fuel".

And the catalogue goes on. There is erythropoietin, which allows the blood to absorb oxygen more quickly, and a fast-acting steroid known as "Mexican beans", as well as trenbolone, a steroid used to improve muscle tone in beef cattle. As one veteran baseball manager said: "I didn't even know there were that many kinds of steroids."

But there are, and they may be washed down with insulin, or the psycho-stimulant drug Modafinil, used to tackle narcolepsy - or even Clomid, a women's infertility drug that is said to restore the normal glandular functioning of the male body after such a pharmacological battering.

The above is not only a selection of products once available at Balco, the San Francisco company at the centre of the steroids scandal that has haunted baseball for the past two years. They also encapsulate the tragedy of Barry Bonds - generally, however grudgingly, accepted as the greatest hitter of his generation.

Since the Balco affair broke in 2004 and with it the revelation that Bonds was one of the company's clients, rumours have swirled that the star outfielder for the San Francisco Giants and holder of baseball's single-season home-run record was using performance-enhancing drugs. Bonds denied all, pointing out that he had never failed a steroids test. Yes, his body might have turned from sylph to bulldog, adding 15 pounds of muscle between the 1998 and 1999 seasons. But, he insisted, that was due to a new gym routine and legal nutritional supplements provided by Balco.

Those claims, however, have now been put to the test by a book by Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, the San Francisco Chronicle reporters who first exposed the scandal. The book,Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, Balco and the Steroid Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports, draws on hundreds of pages of documents and computer records, as well as police evidence and grand jury testimony. It makes a detailed case of how jealousy, ambition and the need to prove himself drove Bonds to fuel himself with an array of drugs.

Steroids were not banned from baseball when Bonds staged his astonishing late-career surge, hitting 73 home runs in 2001 at the age of 37. But his achievements, shown beyond reasonable doubt to have been fuelled in part by artificial chemicals, now threaten the hallowed sanctity of the statistics that are at the very heart of baseball's identity.

Bonds has dismissed the book out of hand. "I won't even look at it," he said. "There's no need to."

Major League Baseball surely must do so. Its heartfelt, as yet unspoken, wish is that Bonds goes away, retiring with the excuse of a chronically bad knee. In that way the sport would be spared the queasy prospect of Bonds reaching and surpassing the career home-run totals of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. It would also seal the personal tragedy of Bonds.

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