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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2006 Baseball Currently Reading History Journalism Non Fiction Nonfiction Sport Sports To Read

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.

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.

Kurt Zisa

Inside look at the scandal that rocked baseball. Investigative reporting as it should be.


A good read, but too many facts get in the way of what should be a remarkable novel: its protagonist is the world's greatest athlete, but no one gives him the respect he so-rightly commands! He hits home runs, people. SO many home runs... Your eyes might just bug out of your head if you knew how many bombs he hit. Despite all these jacks, the so-called "reporters" in the story can dig up only a few years' worth of damning evidence. Think about it: on one hand, you've got a number of files and doping calendars, some eye-witnesses, a couple of confessions...peanuts, really; on the other, all those freaking home runs! Are you crazy? The injustice of it all smacks of collusion, of conspiracy, of unadulterated jealousy. By the novel's close, however, my righteous anger gave way to sadness: the king sits atop his throne all alone, loved by none. I cried for a week after reading it. I even bought the updated and expanded paperback in the hopes of finding my hero vindicated. I've been totally disappointed up to this point. But seriously, dude hits home runs.


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.


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.


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.


This book is terrific. If you are even mildly interested in the steroid scandal that rocked baseball and the Olympics, this book is startling. The depth of information you get truly reveals the extreme level of cheating and thus the pathological denial of the athletes as they chemically manipulated their bodies. Don't be fooled, they cheated. Rest assured that if a name is mention in this book, they cheated using performance enhancing drugs regardless of their public denials. If they say anything other than they cheated they are lying and this book proves it beyond a reasonable doubt.

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.


There is no way anyone could read this book, see the amount of hard evidence documented within, and still conculde anything other than Barry Bonds knowingly took performance enhancing drugs. The Federal agents have:1) Calenders denoting which drugs he took on which days used by the BALCO lab to control his drug cycles and maximize the drugs effectiveness.2) A wire recording from an undercover agent that recorded Barry's personal trainer saying what drugs Barry was taking.3) Results of failed drug tests from a private third party testing facility, performed at the request of BALCO labs when trying to determine the chamical balance required to make the drugs undetectable (has to be adjusted to each person's body chemistry). The test was performed for an anonymous person, code-named Barry B.4) A confession from Victor Conte diretor of BALCO labs that Barry was taking the things the above records indicate and that he did so knowingly (This confession has later been denied). 5) Other evidence that I either can't remember, would take a long time to explain, or was smaller in scope.Combine this with the testimonies of several people near him, like his former mistress and former agent, and it is an open and shut case. If his name remains in any of baseball's record books or if he gets in the hall of fame, it would be a tragedy. See my Dr. King quote.


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.

Romela Encina

In a world where winning is actually everything, professional athletes are put in a tough position in determining how far they are willing to push the boundaries in order to achieve the prize. Organized sports, such as the MLB (Major League Baseball) and NHL (National Hockey League) may seem like it’s just for fun because it involves grown adults playing children’s games, but in reality it’s more of a business. When you put an innocent child’s game into the bright spotlights of national entertainment and business, you may run into some problems. This collaboration of Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams went into extreme detail about each person mentioned in the book, from their early life up until how they got involved with BALCO and how getting involved with BALCO changed their lives. You really get to know each person’s story from a variety of angles, allowing you to decide whether or not they were being truthful. Fainaru-Wada and Williams use a lot of unfamiliar, but specific, scientific terms when they explain the content of the drugs and how it affected their performance. While it could be confusing at first, you eventually get the gist of what you can and can’t do to your body. As they worked to expose every incriminating detail of the case, they keep you engaged by structuring the facts in a way that builds the tension and prevents you from putting the book down! The way they describe these real events puts a clear picture in your head of exactly how it all went down, which makes it a more exciting read. I loved this book and I strongly believe that anybody who is a fan of baseball, or even just sports in general, would find this book entertaining. Everybody wants to be in on the gossip and this book uncovers all that anyone could ever hope for regarding the BALCO scandal that shook professional sports.


Barry Bonds used to be one of the most iconic baseball players the MLB had ever seen, by hitting monstrous homeruns into McCovey Cove while also being the son of hall of famer Willie Mays. But than when Bonds was later found out to be linked to BALCO and abusing steroids his life took a turn for the worst. This book gives you an elaborate description of how Bonds' steroid abuse caused his life to spiral downwards, from his days in Pittsburgh till he retired. Many of the people that knew of the scandal and a part of Bonds' life also help display the changes they started to see in not just his physical attributes but along with his everyday life. We see how the home run king is striped of his crown and everything he ever works for, due to bad decisions and pressure put on him to be the best. Fainaru-Wada's style can seem very lengthy at times along with going into too much depth on some matters that seem like he could do without, but for the most part he has a solid writing style that is easy to read. At Times this can be one of the most exciting books and hard to put down, due to the great imagery and the author allowing you to feel as if you are right next to Barry throughout most the book makes up for the lengthy parts. Although at some points it seems as if the author takes a side upon wether what Bonds did was right or wrong at some points, he mostly stays unbiased about Bonds. Fans of sport stars that are effected by steroids will enjoy this book. If you enjoy Biographies that make you think what if, Game of Shadows is for you.

Kevin Kirkhoff

Just like Fainaru-Wada’s other book League of Denial, this was a very interesting and entertaining read. Although it seemed that most of the book dealt with the BALCO and track and field side as opposed to the baseball (Bonds) side, they did a great job of tying everyone together. But I was a bit surprised at the number of typos and grammatical errors.It did bother me though when they got to the investigative section of the book (Part II). I’m of the opinion that it’s none of our business what people put into their bodies. When the main IRS agent is sifting through BALCO’s trash (I never realized you didn’t need a search warrant to do that) and voicing a strong dislike for Barry Bonds, I started wondering if they just wanted to find something on Bonds. And as it did to me back then, it really bothered me when President Bush is mentioning steroids in a State of the Union speech and Congress is having hearings on “cleaning up baseball”, although it was encouraging that most of the Bush Justice Department thought the idea of government caring about baseball and steroids was laughable. If MLB, the NFL, or NBA want to police their sport, that’s one thing. To have the Feds try to tell a private business how to conduct itself is a different story.Bonds’s teammates and girlfriend did shed light on clubhouse atmosphere and Bonds as a person. While there was no mention of the NBA, tennis, hockey, or golf, the book pretty much gave the impression (maybe rightly so) that most professional sports are plagued by athletes doing whatever they can to get an edge. Part of that is finding chemicals that are not yet detected by drug screens.But, I do give the book 4 stars in spite of the typos, grammar, and queasiness of having the government involved in sports. It was enlightening and very well-written, content-wise.

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.

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