'Game of Shadows' Authors Discuss Barry Bonds, BALCO
Monday, March 5, 2007; 2:00 PM
San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams take your questions about their book,
Fainaru-Wada and Williams were online Monday, March 5 at 2 p.m. to answer your draft prep questions.
A transcript follows
Rockville, Md.: One question that I have been wondering for some time is, why are athletes still using steroids when HGH is not being tested for? Is HGH less effective or just less accessible? You hear players in the NFL and MLB getting caught with steroids, why not just use HGH?
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Dear Rockville,
First, let me say on behalf of Lance, thanks so much for having us and for all your questions. Regarding HGH, indeed, it seems many athletes are using HGH, in part because there is no test for it. The feds raided the home of a pitcher, Jason Grimsley, last year, and he noted that he was using HGH since baseball began testing. That said, we're told that using HGH in conjunction with steroids is most effective, and there remain plenty of steroids that can be used without being caught.
Bellingham, Wash.: Thank you for devoting so much time and effort into the "Game of Shadows." Perhaps an article, movie, college course, or another book could focus on MLB's lack of action on Bonds and others. Why is he still allowed to play? Isn't there enough evidence out there to lock him up? Or, would we have to lock up a lot of the baseball execs who have turned their back on this issue? Thanks again for your fine work.
Lance Williams: Dear Bellingham,
A new federal prosecutor in San Francisco must decide whether to ask for an indictment of Bonds on perjury charges. Bonds told a grand jury in 2003 that he never knowingly used banned drugs, and investigators have obtained significant evidence that in fact Bonds has knowingly used them. Whether the government can sustain a conviction is a lawyer's question.
Even if he is indicted, it's likely Bonds will play out the season. Baseball allows players to play while facing criminal charges -- after all, they're innocent until proven guilty.
Bethesda, Md.: It seems to me that baseball is trying to paint the steroid and performance enhancing drug problem as an isolated incident effecting only a few players. Do you have any idea how widespread the use of performance enhancing drugs were in baseball during the "steroids" area?
Lance Williams: In 2002, Caminiti said 50 percent, I believe. Canseco put the percentage at 80. When baseball tested for the first time in 2003, the equivalent of two full teams tested POZ. So the drugs are widely used in the game.
Olney, Md.: I haven't had a chance to read your book yet although I intend to:
If Bonds did steroids, but the proof isn't made conclusive until after he breaks Aaron's record, should the record books then read:
Most Home runs career -
(left blank ) 756
Hank Aaron 755
Babe Ruth 714
Wouldn't this be the ultimate punishment?
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Dear Olney,
I guess the question becomes what will be proof. If it's a positive test you're looking for, not sure we'll be seeing that. But, as we've learned from BALCO, the point of the deal is to avoid being caught by using substances that either can't be tested for or have been designed to avoid detection. It seems there is ample evidence to show Bonds used; so, the question for baseball is what to do about that. I think much remains to play out -- namely, do the feds end up indicting him on perjury charges, and what becomes of the Mitchell investigation.
Harrisburg, Pa.: Barry Bonds states he let someone inject needles into him but he never asked what was being injected into him? Now, without getting into the specifics of Mr. Bonds, does anyone out there know anyone who lets someone inject them and they never bother to ask what's inside the needle?
Lance Williams: Bonds hasn't acknowledged being injected or injecting himself, I don't believe. On the Orioles at the time of the Palmiero scandal, some players said they were getting shots for Vitamin B-12.
Sacramento, Calif.: I think what irks most folks is the obsessive attention to Bonds, as if he is the only one you guys are after. In fact, baseball in general seems intent on destroying him while ignoring other high profile players such as McGwire, who many felt came into the league using steroids. Sure Bonds is surly rude and egotistical, but he is without a doubt the most talented player since Mays and arguably the best ever at any position. It appears from reading accounts of your so-called investigation that he is the only one you've ever really focused on and would be the most prized pelt displayed on your barn door. Hate him that bad?
Lance Williams: We don't have any personal feelings about Bonds. He's one of more than two dozen elite athletes featured in "Game of Shadows." But certainly he is the most prominent, chasing the most hallowed record in all of sports, and he gets scrutiny as a result.
Washington, D.C.: Undermining the secrecy of grand jury testimony is a greater threat than the alleged use of steroids by any ballplayer. The legal system is not worth damaging so you two could make a buck. Neither is the field of journalism. Chalk one up for the triumph of the almighty dollar over journalistic integrity.
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Dear DC: Thank you for your question, and while I respect the concerns you express, I don't necessarily accept the premise. Among other things, in this case, indictments had been handed up, the grand jury had completed its business regarding four men indicted on distribution charges, and then thousands of pages of grand jury testimony and evidence were handed over to prosecutors and defense attorneys as discovery material to be used to prepare the cases. As to the value of the stories, I would respectfully disagree, based on what we've been told by others -- that is, folks have said that the value of putting a name and a face to steroid use was critical in exposing the problem. For our purposes, we were trying to cover a story as best we could and do what reporters do: Provide the public with information that it is being shielded from; in this case, the athletes were being protected. As for the $ issue, not sure what you're point is.
Albany, N.Y.: Thank you both so much for your good work and congratulations on staying out of jail.
My question is this: I support severe punishments for steroid use in baseball, I have no problem with a lifetime ban. But I am concerned about the reliability of the testing. Can we be virtually certain that those who test positive are in fact guilty?
Lance Williams: Experts say the tests are reliable. One issue that arises is whether an athlete unknowingly used banned drugs -- say, by using an over-the-counter substance that is contaminated.
State College, Pa.: In some of the lesser-covered congressional hearings there were discussions regarding the future of performance-enhancing substances. HGH may be mild in comparison to the drugs of the future.
During testimony, they directly mentioned that genetic alteration was a possible issue, and I thought that was a long-term, kind of "my grandkids-grandkids" issue. However, when I found out that in the most recent winter Olympics, the Olympic Doping Agency was looking for a drug called "Proxygen" in the Austrian cross-country ski team's accommodations, and that drug apparently is a genetic-altering drug that makes your body start producing red blood cells like crazy, I realized the future is now.
Can you comment on the future of performance-enhancing drugs? Is what we are seeing today just the beginning of a dramatic shift?
Mark Fainaru-Wada: State College: Indeed, this is what frightens the testers and others interested in cracking down on doping. The question remains: Will the cheaters always be ahead of the testers. I'm cynical about this and believe they always will be. That said, it seems we're witnessing the one way the problem can be addressed most significantly: With law enforcement kicking down doors and forcing people to testify under oath. I think the anti-doping agencies see that as their greatest hope. Amy Shipley of The Post had a very good story about that the other day.
Alexandria, Va.: How has working on the book changed how you feel about baseball? Were you both fans before starting on it? Are you still now?
Lance Williams: I'm not a sportswriter. I was a second-deck baseball fan, if I can put it that way -- I followed the sport, read the sports page, and thought I knew what was going on. It turned out I didn't have a clue, at least when it comes to steroids. They are far more prevalent than I ever thought.
Certainly it's difficult for more to enjoy the game right now. But in part that's because it's become my job, and your job can't really also serve as your amusement.
Silver Spring, Md.: How are people in San Francisco treating you? I get sick when I see Giants fans standing and applauding Bonds.
I thought that you should have been the Sports Illustrated Sportsmen of the Year as nobody else made more of an impact on sports than you did. The book was excellent. (I also enjoyed "Love Me, Hate Me" as a supplement to your book to learn more about Bonds's life.)
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Dear Silver Spring,
Thank you very much for your kind words, they are much appreciated. As to the reaction from fans, as Lance likes to point out, the further you get from home plate at Pac Bell park, the more people are nice to us. We get plenty of very, very, very nasty e-mails and calls from people who are fans of the Giants and of Bonds. But we get that, they're fans. I always wonder what it would be like if Bonds were playing in L.A. Would Dodger fans be hating us, while Giants fans celebrate the stories?
Albany, N.Y.: Bonds admitted using steroids to the grand jury. Why shouldn't that be sufficient proof to ban him from the game.
Lance Williams: Speaking legally, or legalistically, his drug use in 2003 would get him only a suspension, not a ban, assuming baseball could prove it. And Bonds didn't admit using banned drugs before the grand jury -- he denied it despite being presented with significant evidence -- doping calendars and so forth. And of course baseball doesn't have access to his testimony anyway, except via our reporting in the San Francisco Chronicle and in our book.
Arlington, Va.: Can you talk at all about your legal battles? Are those behind you know or are there likely to be more lawsuits over the book? Would you still have written it if you knew it was going to cause you this many problems?
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Dear Arlington,
Knocking on wood, it seems our legal problems are mostly behind us. At least as it relates to the subpoenas we faced. Bonds sued us at the time the book came out, but it wasn't over the accuracy of the material, but rather the question of how we obtained the material. That suit was quickly dropped by him. ... As to whether we'd do it all over again, I'd have to say yes. I would love it if we could have done these stories and avoided our "little legal entanglement," as I like to call it, but, well, I guess that was just part of the deal.
Washington, D.C.: Do you think Bonds's trainer will ever talk?
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Dear Washington:
No, I don't believe Bonds's trainer will ever talk. He has been sitting in jail for some time now, and I've heard nothing to indicate that he would come out and talk. ... I always find it interesting when people still question the accuracy of the reports on Bonds, they can't seem to answer this question: If Bonds didn't use, why is his trainer sitting in jail not answering questions?
Rockville, Md.: What do you expect the reaction to be, from fans and from MLB, if Bonds breaks the HR record this season?
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Dear Rockville,
I think it will be very much a mixed bag. Again, in San Francisco, he likely will be hailed. But I can't imagine there will be huge celebrations in other cities. I think the most interesting thing will be looking at how baseball chooses to react. The commissioner was out here recently and told reporters he might treat it like any other record, might not necessarily be there, maybe there would be a phone call. That speaks volumes about baseball's dilemma. The commissioner is very close friends with Hank Aaron, so this can't be easy for him or the game.
Texas: If you were running a MLB team, how would you address possible banned-substance use by the free agents you were looking to sign?
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Dear Texas,
That's a great question, and a complicated one, for sure. I think this is the thing that scouts and teams are grappling with right now. The LA Times had a good story about this a while back, and it's clearly an evolving issue. I don't know that I have a good response. My guess is teams, if they are concerned about this, perhaps will begin to do more due diligence on this issue; still, it's not as if players or agents or anyone is volunteering information about this. It's certainly an interesting issue to look at in light of the evolving steroids case on the East Coast and Gary Matthews Jr. getting tied in with it.
S. Rockville, Md.: Once you saw comments from your source calling for sanctions because of the leaks, did you feel like you were being used to manipulate the judicial process or did you expect him to behave as he did?
Lance Williams: Mark and I cannot comment on anything in connection with the identity of any of our confidential sources -- we promised not to betray our sources, and we will keep our promises.
In general, we would have been delighted to rely on the public record to write the true story of the BALCO scandal and the role of the elite athletes in it. Unfortunately, the government refused to make information about Bonds et al public - affidavits were redacted or rewritten to remove the names of the elite athletes, the indictments didn't mention them, and so forth.
And so to get the story, we had to turn to confidential sources, who provided us with true information, including transcripts. Without their assistance, the truth would never have been known.
Silver Spring, Md.: Mark,
Is the Fainaru that writes for The Post your brother?
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Dear Silver Spring,
Indeed, that's my big brother, the vastly more talented of the Fainaru duo. I'm biased obviously, but he is an amazing reporter and I have spent many years doing the little-bro-tagging-along-in-big-brother's wake deal. He was an incredibly supportive force for us, particularly on the book. He even edited a significant part of the manuscript while in Iraq. And I must say, though I hated him being in Iraq, I was selfishly glad he was there because there was a point earlier where he was working BALCO, too -- and I thought, "Oh great, we're gonna get crushed by my brother."
Washington, D.C.: How do you think the public feels about steroid use in baseball? Are they outraged or pretty much resigned to it at this point? People talk about the owners turning a blind eye in the late '90s, but fans did, too.
I was a baseball fan in the '90s, and I can tell you I had no idea about steroids in baseball -- not a clue.
I think the prevalence of the drugs in the game makes many fans uncomfortable. Fans are still processing this information, but I believe that unless the game gets a handle on the drug problem, it risks alienating many people who care about the game.
Arlington: Gentlemen, to what do you attribute the emphasis on Barry Bonds, rather than on other enhanced miscreants of the present and the recent past (Giambi, Caminiti [RIP]; possibly McGwire, Dykstra, et al.)? Is it simply because Bonds is chasing a hallowed record, or is it something else? Thanks for your insight.
Lance Williams: Bonds is the biggest star caught up in the drug scandal, chasing the most hallowed record in all sports. And he's defiant -- recently in Scottsdale, he challenged the government to continue investigating him. Those elements combine to make him a continuing focus of the scandal.
Washington, D.C.: What was the most surprising thing you learned while working on the book?
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Dear D.C.,
There have been a lot of surprising aspects to the reporting, which began more than three years ago at the Chronicle. I think the two biggest things to me were:
1) The extent of the use in many sports. There is a point in the book in which we talk about the US Anti-Doping agency trying to cut deals with athletes who have cheated. And during the conversations with those athletes, one female sprinter tells USADA that in a field of 8 elite 100-meter runners, she believes 6 are juicing. Another sprinter says she believes all 8 would be juicing. Clearly there is a cheat-or-lose mentality that persists.
2) I was surprised by the willingness of the athletes to cocktail an array of substances, particularly ones that either have undergone no FDA testing or were designed primarily for animals. And, of course, even where some of these substances have legitimate medical uses, they're not at all designed to be used by extremely healthy athletes to be able to perform better.
Bethesda, Md.: How much can performance enhancing substances improve the game for a baseball player and if a majority of players were doing them does that diminish the effect? Both pitchers and hitters have been suspended.
Lance Williams: The drugs can make an athlete stronger and faster, and help him recover from injuries far more quickly. There are major health risks, but there is no question the drugs are a big advantage to an athlete's performance. An athlete on steroids has an advantage over a clean athlete, all other things being equal. But some drugs are more effective than others, and some athletes are more dedicated drug cheats than others. Lance
What's next?: Are you going to continue pursuing this story, or go work on something completely different?
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Dear What's Next?: Well, for the first time in ages, we've both been working on stories that have nothing to do with steroids and sports; I have to admit, it has been quite refreshing. And I think we're hopeful that, eventually, as much as we've loved covering this story, we'll be able to move onto other things. That said, there remains an ongoing perjury investigation into Bonds and, perhaps, others who were part of the BALCO case. There is a new US Attorney here in San Francisco, and I think/hope we'll know in the coming months which way this thing is going to go. Also, there is the matter of the Mitchell investigation, and we're likely to be part of covering that, too.
Greencastle, Ind.: Re: Greg Williams sitting in jail -- I'm not a fan of his, I don't think I'd do it myself, but he apparently believes he's in a lose-lose situation with the feds... He claims they've reneged on agreements... he can apparently tolerate prison life... look at the stuff Jason Grimsley talked about, being pressured to wear a wire and get "dirt" on Bonds and others... as long as he can take it, he'll do this to spite the feds. Whether Bonds "did it" or not (cough, cough).
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Dear Greencastle:
Indeed, Greg Anderson is in a pretty bad situation, sitting in jail even after having done the time he was hit with for his role in the steroids case. He did three months in prison, and then three months of house arrest. His lawyers have argued that the government reneged on its deal -- that is, they asked him to name names, he wouldn't do it, and then he was sentenced. Now, they have argued, it's unfair to come back to him and force him to name names or go back to jail. The courts, though, have been unwavering on this. It appears, barring something unusual, he will remain in prison until the grand jury expires, which we believe is July.
Los Angeles: Hello,
I understand a journalist's desire to protect his/her sources. But when that source is a felon, and the journalist has full knowledge of the crime (for example, leaking grand jury information), why is it okay to withhold that knowledge from law enforcement? As citizens, if we have knowledge of a felony, we are bound to report it.
Lance Williams: Mark and I cannot comment on anything in connection with the identity of any of our confidential sources - we promised not to betray our sources, and we will keep our promises.
But speaking in general terms, do you want true information about what your government is up to? Or would you prefer to rely on what the official spin doctors tell you, and allow them to throw anybody in jail who might try to inform the public of what's going on? Lance
Balcomore, Md.: You gave a couple of percentages as estimates for how many players use steroids, but it seems like Oakland, San Francisco, Baltimore and Texas have much higher percentages of implicated players than others. Have you done any research on how steroid use is spread from team to team with player movement?
Lance Williams: We know more about drug use on teams where Jose Canseco played, because Canseco has confessed his own drug use and implicated his teammates. We also know more about the teams whose players went to BALCO, because of the investigation, and we know about the O's because of Palmeiro's suspension. But I expect drug use in the game isn't localized to those teams.
Lance Williams: Thanks for having us on the forum -- we're going back to work now.
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