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Apologies for the length....

Occam's Razor is a philosophical principle which contends, "The simplest explanation is most likely the correct one". Barry Bonds' trainer is taken down in a performance-enhancing drug scandal. Barry Bonds became a incredibly large man, and did it quickly. Barry Bonds was able to sustain an unprecedented level of success as he went into his forties. Not only is Occam's face baby smooth on this one, but he'd look great in a bikini, too.

So don't count me among the Bonds apologists. It makes me sick to think about it all, and I'm beyond conflicted. It's human nature for a competitor to look at the way Mark McGwire was deified in 1998, and to want to reach the same level in the same way. But that never took the shadiness out of what was being done. It was a competitive advantage that not everyone was willing to take. "Everyone's doing it" is a point that shouldn't be blithely dismissed, but it certainly doesn't condone the whole endeavor.

There has to be a line drawn when it comes to the balance between what is expected for an athlete to succeed, and the health of the athletes. Offensive linemen are in an era where they have to be at least 300 pounds to be in the NFL. That's not good for their short-term health, and it isn't good for their long-term health. David Bell is already taking cortisone shots in his back this spring. Cortisone shots can have brutal long-term deteriorating effects if used excessively. Yet, to hold and succeed in their jobs, players in every sport rely a lot on cortisone shots for pain relief. I'm not sure if the line is drawn before or after either of those examples. I do know the line is drawn before we get into most of the performance-enhancing drugs in question. When you start talking about liver damage, kidney damage, and tumors coming from artificial compounds, that's beyond the point we can reasonably expect an athlete to go.

With all of the above in mind, the excerpt from Game of Shadows makes the book look fascinating. I can't wait to see how they cram five pages worth of crap into 300 pages. The media is buzzing with the "new revelations" detailed in the excerpt. There aren't any new revelations, and if this is the snippet chosen to be the publicity bombshell, there won't be. The sources quoted in this excerpt:

  1. Bonds' ex-mistress.
  2. It seems like another story came from Jose Canseco, but that's just implied.

The rest of the story is from the leaked grand jury testimony, and documents from the grand jury, which were already reported ad nauseum. What's clear from the excerpt, though, is that the book will not be an objective search for the truth. This is a book with a thesis, and conclusions to reach. If the excerpt is any indication, anything not in complete alignment with the premise of the book is discarded.

Problems with the excerpt:

Most attributed the changes in Bonds's body to a heavy workout regimen, as though a 34-year-old man could gain 15 pounds of muscle in 100 without drugs.

Ignoring the specious "15 pounds" claim, which sounds as if it's a guess, this might be a valid point. How much muscle can a 34-year old man gain in an offseason?

chirp chirp chirp chirp

But, if this is a supporting point to the entire premise of the book, isn't that a little careless to casually throw that out without backing it up? Maybe the book has a chapter that details it all, but it looks like ugly investigative journalism right now. (Edit: This doesn't answer the specific question I raised, but at least some sources are cited here. "Ugly investigative journalism" is retracted for this point, at least. I'd still like to know how much muscle a 34-year old man can gain without arousing suspicion.)

But then, because of his drug use, he blew out his left elbow and nearly ruined his career.

Wow. I didn't know that. I'm looking forward to the medical opinions that supported that correlation/causation tidbit. Because the source in the article is a secondhand conversation relayed by Bonds' ex-mistress, which is a bit of a joke.

...there was a muted feeling to baseball's reaction to (Bonds') home run march, a sense of anticlimax.

The piece then goes on with a couple of possible explanations, finally settling on the idea the public knew something was up. There was no mention of September, 2001. That made a wee bit of difference, and to ignore it is offensively misleading.

After about an hour into the interview at BALCO, Novitzky emerged from the conference room with a smile on his face. "Conte just gave up everything. The steroids. The Lindbergh baby. Sacco. Vanzetti. The whole thing." There was no tape made of the interview.

What's in the quotes is fabricated for effect, of course, but the last sentence is accurate. Most of the story comes from the illegal leaked grand jury testimony. A lot of the testimony is based on the work of Jeff Novitzky, who was portrayed by Playboy as a man on a crusade, and one consumed with bringing down Barry Bonds. Does that mean Novitzky fabricated the initial interview with Victor Conte? No. But without a tape, is this a smoking gun? Absolutely not.

And that's the problem with the entire excerpt. It's intent on demonizing Bonds for the purposes of a more compelling story. The narrative implies Bonds has never had to deal with any sort of overt racism because his best boyhood friend, first wife, and present girlfriend were all white. Bonds is often repugnant with his comments, and he does seem to have a nasty persecution complex, but that leap in logic seems a little inappropriate. It tries to set a tone, and sets Bonds up as an ugly human being (which, by most accounts, he is), but has dubious value to the story.

Think, people. Demand more. What percentage of baseball was on the stuff? What are the effects of these drugs? Are they cigarette bad, high cholesterol bad, or snorting lines of radium bad? How much do they help a player? How much is that help balanced by the potential of injury? Why was the desire for an unfair competitive advantage so widespread? There should be so many questions, but this is the unfortunate focus of attention. Taking down one player isn't going to solve anything, much less fumbling with confidential or questionable sources to do it. It isn't going to provide answers or insight into the era of performance enhancing drugs. Everyone's so eager to get out the bannin' stick for a good whompin', they've lost sight of the big picture.

This shouldn't be the book to define an era. From the provided excerpt, it looks to be a Kitty Kelley book with warmed over information hiding behind the quantity of sources, but not the quality. Did Bonds use? Almost certainly. Did many, many others also use? Almost certainly. Why is Bonds the poster child? Because he's the most successful of the bunch, and the least likable. Now he's the guy who will sell the most books. Baseball doesn't need a fall guy to recover from whatever damage the performance-enhancing drug era did to the game - judging by the game's popularity, it didn't do a whole heck of a lot - but we're about to get one. I hope there will be a real, intellectually honest discussion on the topic that catches the public attention in a similar fashion in the future, but I'm also not holding my breath.

Now let's play some freaking baseball.