Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports

ISBN: 1592401996
ISBN 13: 9781592401994
By: Mark Fainaru-Wada Lance Williams

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Reader's Thoughts


I thought I was going to be very interested in this story since I was a big baseball fan at the time of reading the book, but it had trouble keeping my interest.


This is an incredible book...not just because of the story, but, for me, because of the incredible in-depth reporting done by the two authors. This is journalism at its best!I have been aware of this book for sometime, but at the recent Tucson Festival of Books, both authors were there and gave a riveting account of this on-going story. So many similarities to Watergate and Woodward and Bernstein. I sat in utter fascination for an hour as they told how the story unfolded. Even more interesting, they gave updated information that is not in the book as the story continues to escalate. Barry Bonds has not gone to trial yet and it may be a while before he does. But other big-name ball players are also now involved in the scandal.Their reporting opened the huge Pandora's Box that is now the steroids and HGH scandal that has rocked all of sports. It is obvious that baseball wanted to sweep the steroid scandals under the carpet, but these two reporters made sure that could not happen. And they put their own lives in danger because they published secret federal grand jury testimony.It is only mentioned in passing in the book, but these two were actually sentenced to 18 months in prison for not releasing the name of their source for the published transcripts. It was only when the person who gave them the documents came forward that they were saved from prison. I hope there might be a followup book since so much has happened since the publication of this book. Anyway, their writing and reporting is impeccable in this book. They have obviously checked all their sources quite carefully as they come right out and say that Bonds and other very famous athletes in baseball, football, and track took steroids. Names are named and it might shock you.At the book festival, I asked the question: do they think that if and when Bonds goes to trial, in their opinion, will he be convicted. Their answer was probably, but they wished that if it were possible, they would want both Bonds and the government to lose. The prosecution of this case, according to them, has risen to new heights of persecution and overstepping of their mandate. According to them, Bonds and the prosecution are not good people.By the way, if you are a Bonds fan, don't read this book, because in the end, you will hate this guy's arrogant guts.Highly recommended.


This slightly overly detailed book tells the story of how steroids invaded professional sports, including the Olympics. Beginning in the late 1970s, steroids and other drugs were being tested and researched by personal trainers and body builders on how to bulk up, increase speed, and fine tune athletic performance. The "steroid story" is told here, including the negative physical and mental side effects. This book also delves into the tabloid fodder of the mistakes made by Barry Bonds and Marion Jones, as well as sadly, so many other revered professional athletes. This book pulled away the proverbial curtain on how drugs have infiltrated sports and so many "heroes." Redemption is not included secondary to many athletes did not admit to using (or if they did, justifying why they cheated) drugs. A little depressing to me, a sports fan, yet important to know and be aware of when watching these phenoms in the stadium, on the track, on the field, and in the dugout.

William Johnson

The year 2010 is a year where we are starting to see our sports stars as scoundrels. Sure, we always SUSPECTED a lot of them were selfish babies (the baseball strike in 1994, the NBA lockout in 99, the constant threats from the NFL of a future lockout in 2011, etc etc etc) but when an athlete came out as a verified scumbag, it was kind of like an exception to the norm. We still worshipped the people that probably could give a damn about us. I suffer from it still. . .but as 2010 skips past it's half way point, well, are there really any sports heroes left?LeBron James almost embodies the example of the materialistic athlete in 2010. He didn't only alienate his hometown but almost the entire nation. Tiger Woods, while exceptional on the course, has been exposed as a hedonistic fraud of humanism: a man thought untouchable brought down by his own indiscretions. Darrelle Revis of the NFL's Jets has violated a contract he's signed so that he can have the label of 'highest paid player' completely ignoring his team and their goals of a championship. And let's not get started on Brett Favre. 2010 feels like the year when shit is finally hitting the unwitted public! But the collapse happened long ago. . .in 2003, and Game of Shadows is a chronicle of that.Baseball is dying. Baseball has not adapted to the times yet and it is suffering because of it. Baseball is a legacy sport; a sport of history and memories. And as the older generations enjoy the current game, newer generations look for something flashier. In a way, the existence of PEDs and steroids probably SAVED baseball. I can remember being so excited to see Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa pursue the glorious 61 HRs Roger Maris hit in 1961 (they both broke the record, by the way). Those were GLORIOUS, ROMANTIC times in baseball.But only three years later, when Barry Bonds was destroying Maris, McGwire, and Sosa all at once with his pursuit of 73 HRs in 2001, the beautiful picture started to crack and fade. Steroids were a story and the herculean task that McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds undertook seemed to be not so amazing when help, considerable help at that, was being used to make those records not breakable but smash-able, destructible, and combustible.Game of Shadows is the dark and dreary story of BALCO, an alternative 'supplemant' company, that provided illegal performance enhancers and other such drugs to some of the world's most popular athletes. Track runner Marion Jones was a high profile BALCO drug user but so was the questionably titled 'Home Run King', Barry Bonds. BALCO had such an incredible influence on mainstream sports that at one point, as pointed out in Game of Shadows, the President of the United States made it a priority to bring it up and clean it up.Game of Shadows isn't exactly thrilling, seeing that it's investigative journalism and the writers write factual newspaper articles for a living, but it certainly is informative. And while 2010 does feel kind of crappy in terms of the athletes we 'love', Game of Shadows proves it was never pretty, really. And after reading Game of Shadows, I find myself conflicted and wondering 'who can I trust' and, more importantly, 'who can my daughter look up to in the sports world'? Though released LONG ago, Game of Shadows really is the final straw for me and my worship of athletes. I lost my sports innocence, as it were, when LeBron destroyed the NBA. . .this is just an insult to injury this Game of Shadows.I'd recommend the book but. . .it's just sad and stinky. Victor Conte, the maniacal head of BALCO, is just grimy. Barry Bonds, as if his reputation isn't bad enough, comes across as the world's greatest super villain (literally super as he seemed to be changed by chemicals and almost otherworldly concoctions and potions). There are no heroes in Game of Shadows, save the writers, I suppose, and, through a twisted moment of fate, are almost punished MORE for not revealing their sources to the Supreme Court then the athletes who betrayed our faith and support and drugged themselves and American sports. Ugh. I feel dirty.

Christopher Carbone

This book documents the rise of substance-aided sports, most notably baseball and the Olympics. While Barry Bonds graces the cover of this book, the main thrust of this story is BALCO and its single-minded determination to undermine the Olympics. The book is worth the price for that story alone; the Bonds material is just gravy (and relatively out-dated as the book pre-dates the Mitchell Report). The most facinating parts of the book is the detailed look at what certain drugs due to pros, why they take certain drugs and not others, and most assuredly, why the Olympics is the the grand games for not only the competitors but for the legions of doctors and nutritionists who ... help. A very engrossing book. If you are not interested in sports the book still has something for you.


I read this book over the course of one afternoon. Once I picked it up I could not stop reading it. The book is well written as a piece of investigative journalism and provides tremendous insight into what can be described as no less than the seedy underbelly of professional sports. The most shocking revelation in the book is that athletes will commonly use insulin as part of their performance-enhancing drug routines. Insulin can be lethal if inappropriately dosed and it is terrifying to think that athlete's worth millions of dollars are using this drugs and others without a physician's supervision.


Game Of Shadows is about BALCO and the impact that it had on the sporting world at large from Baseball (Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Benito Santiago, etc...) to Track and Field (Marion Jones) to Football (Bill Romanowski). But the main crux of this book focused squarely on Barry Bonds, detailing his steroid use starting in 1999.If Hollywood ever decides to make a movie about BALCO, this is the book they will no doubt use as it's blue print. I for one would love to see it happen because this book was a gripping, fantastic read. I could not put this book down for one second and that's saying a lot since I knew pretty much the entire sordid story before even reading it.With all the knowledge of what's been happening in real life concerning BALCO, the more I read the book, the more I devoured what was happening in the pages here. Knowing how it all ends, it was fascinating watching, er...reading about this group of people and associates that comprised BALCO as they were building their house of cards. A very shaky house of cards at that. It amazes me that the house didn't collapse sooner than it did with Victor Conte at the helm. He is nothing more than a spoiled little child, crying out for attention. He never amounted to anything in life so the only way he could feel like "someone" was to hang on to celebrities.I can recommend this if you want an excellent read that will have you flipping page after page, even if it is "incomplete" in that Barry Bonds was never convicted in a court of law or that the book came out before his assault on Hank Aaron's all-time Home Run record which is not documented within'.Highly recommend this book. Check it out.You can find more of my Book, DVD, TV and Movie reviews at my Forum (Penny Can) at... http://pennycan.createaforum.comFeel free to stop by and contribute your 2 cents.


I found this an interesting account of the steroids history in baseball and the Olympics. It told the story of Barry Bonds and many of the other steroid users in baseball as well as Marion Jones and other Olympic athletes who used or were caught using banned substances in sports. I know there are strong urges to use steroids to become the best you can be in your sport. I can now better understand the pressure that Lance Armstrong felt to use steroids to win the many Tour de France's he competed in. I'm optimistic that we can get these substances out of sports, but know there will always be a temptation to use them. Lifetime bans for cheaters might be the only way to rid sports of these intense problems. A recommended read.


Very in depth and covered more than the doing problem in baseball. It always bothered me that baseball got so much attention in regards to performance enhancing drugs. Very troubling how much of this goes in in various sports. Also amazing how many people are involved in creating and promoting PEDs. What was especially surprising is how some guy creates a performance enhancer in his kitchen and athletes actually take it without wondering what it is or what is might do to them.


I bought this in the one dollar bin simply because I've always hated Barry Bonds but wanted more dirt on him. I was a little surprised to read about the other athletes that are using performance enhancers in other sports. I knew "everybody did it" but the reality is that we are no longer watching pure athletes perform. It is a little disheartening as a sports fan but I'm glad that I am now more informed about the true impact of drugs. (Wow, I sound like such a naive idiot...I can no longer turn my back to this travesty.)The writing is a little slow in parts but it serves the purpose of informing the reader. It was, after all, written by newspaper reporters. Give it a shot..if you can find it for a buck!


This book got a lot of attention (and still does) for how thoroughly it documents Barry Bonds' steroid use. And there's a lot of that in the book, and the authors should get credit for it. But what's even more fascinating is that the book looks at steroids beyond Bonds and outside of the baseball, painting a portrait of an age when athletes in all sorts of competition were looking for a pharmacological edge. It's less a story exclusively about Bonds and baseball and more a story about how sports became tainted by steroids thanks largely to a company known as BALCO.


I'll be honest: I knew almost nothing about the BALCO scandal before I read this book. Sure, I knew that congress had some hearings about steroids, and that it turned out some of the dudes hitting home runs in the 1990s were juicers, but that's about as far as my knowledge (or frankly, interest) went. But Scott Brick is my favorite audio book narrator, so when I saw his name on the cover of this audio book, I had to check it out. And man, I'm glad I did.Game of Shadows tells the story of the rise and fall of Victor Conte, a self-styled health expert whose trade in illicit "performance enhancing drugs" brought down several elite track and field athletes, as well as catapulting the public shaming of many of the best baseball players of the last fifteen years. A few quick thoughts: The skill Fainaru-Wada and Williams use to reveal the story piece-by-piece works well, and is part of the reason investigative journalists often write the best books about this sort of thing. The book gets a little bogged down in all the medical jargon and steroid language, but it stayed on the right side of that chasm, I thought, particularly by injecting the human drama of scandal, coverups, and emotion into the mix. The authors also do a good job of painting a fair picture of Bonds that makes him both sympathetic and villainous. As he sinks deeper into the hole he's dug, he shifts away from sympathetic, and the authors introduce the detectives and scientists at the center of the anti-doping agencies. I've discovered that for some reason, I don't care for sports themselves, but I often enjoy reading sports writing. The drama and excitement of sports comes through in the writing while the beer-swilling asshattery and expensive tickets and boring waits between the action stay where they belong, on television or at the stadium. The book ends with a soft-ball call to arms about the drugs, chastising MLB for its weak approach to the drug problem. The authors compare the waffling, weak reaction of today's baseball leaders with the vicious, perhaps unfair actions of the Black Sox justice man, Kennisaw Mountain Landis, the judge who banned the players with no sympathy for their situations under the pressure of baseball, and was apparently was a superhero with a blimp.As I expected, Scott Brick does an excellent job narrating the book. He doesn't do voices, but when he reads dialogue, he gives it a little inflection that works just right. At this point, I've listened to so many Scott Brick books that it's a bit like hearing from an old friend. That sounds weird, but the experience of an audio book is not unlike that of a long, intimate conversation, especially if you listen via headphones, as I usually do. Thus, his readings have actually become a selling point for me. Even without Brick, though, this is a great book. It's got drama, betrayal, excitement, and scandal. I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

Jaymz H.

The game of baseball was forever changed when the all-star, Barry Bonds was caught using steroids and growth hormones supplied by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, or BALCO, nutrition center. This story was fully explained in the Game of Shadows by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams.The Game of Shadows is very similar to Love me, Hate Me by Jeff Pearlman because they both are about how Barry Bonds converted himself from a baseball hero, to a baseball anti-hero. Bonds was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates before he was out of college, which you have to be very talented for. He personally upped the attendance to all the games he played in, which were at record lows before Bonds. However, when he was not being noticed because of the other stars of baseball, he wanted to try and get an edge on them. His personal trainer, Anderson, supplied Bonds with his performance enhancing drugs. And Anderson was getting anabolic steroids from BALCO.The authors make Barry seem like a stuck up guy that need all of the attention of everyone. He didn't want to play baseball at first because then he would be held up to his father’s records and achievements. This will lead Bonds toward the path of using performance enhancing drugs. Bonds was connected to BALCO by the federal government when they raided the BALCO company in 2003. Everyone was against Bonds and there was seeming no way out. His own wife told the BALCO grand jury that Bonds was taking steroids. 5 of Bonds friends from baseball told the court that they received performance enhancing drugs from Anderson and they only know Anderson because he was Bonds trainer. By the end of the book, Bonds was able to take the field again as “the greatest player of all time [to] take his position in left field”, said the Giants executive vice president.The Game of Shadows is sports non-fiction. This book is strictly off the facts. There is no opinion from the author in the book anywhere so as a reader, you can get the whole picture of the story without it being distorted in any way. As a reader of this book, you are supposed to understand what happens when you cheat. The extreme case of Barry Bonds was used because his cheating exposed a huge string of athletes that have also been using steroids and are getting away with it and the company supplying the drugs.After reading the Game of Shadows, I would rate it a 3 out of 5. I like baseball and was very interested in the effects this case had on it, but I don’t really like the lack of opinion. I really didn’t expect there to be much opinion because this is just not a topic you can insert much opinion. I did find this book to be very educational also. I knew about this scandal, but now I know the details about the scandal.

Jason Collins

The tale of the Victor Conte/BALCO scandal is fascinating, and the story behind athletes who may have used steroids during an era when steroid use was rampant is pretty interesting too. "Game of Shadows" details Conte's rise & fall, along with a good amount of recent history surrounding the steroids-sports partnership. When I closed this book, I didn't find myself detesting Victor Conte or Barry Bonds. They came across as tragic figures that might actually deserve a little sympathy. Instead, I developed a distaste for the overzealous federal agents who went on a witch-hunt, targeting certain athletes who found more success than others did while using performance-enhancing substances for their respective sports. Written by two veteran journalists, this is a non-fiction page-turner, propelled by top-notch reporting. It's absurd that after "Game of Shadows" went into publication, several people in the sports world along with the book's two authors, ended up in jail. However, while reading this book, the overzealous federal agents and prosecutors came across as the only real villains in the ordeal. Whether intentional or not, "Game of Shadows," underscores the out-of-control, unreasonable, and unjustifiable nature of the United States' war on drugs policy.


Fascinating book. It's not just a book about Barry Bonds. The book also highlights the downfall of major Olympic athletes such as Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones. I remember watching Marion Jones when I was a kid. There was something about her persona that was so appealing. I also remember the famous press conference where she finally confessed to doping all the years of her career. It was shocking, and I think this book captured those stories very well.

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