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


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.


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.

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.


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.

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.


Meh. I give it about a C. Books written by journalists -- specifically, newspaper reporters -- tend to be a little dry in style but make up for it with details. This book chronicles the rise and fall of BALCO, a supplement "facility" in San Francisco linked to the creation and distribution of designer steroids, with a client list reading like a who's who of elite athletes in track and field, professional baseball, the NFL and Olympians. Some of the details/back stories were interesting, but by the last third of the book, with a federal investigation in full swing, it became incredibly boring. Yes, I wanted to see what the authors had to say about Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery, et al, but I am always suspicious of such bodies of work where this is little legitimate attribution. And when it is attributed, there are a lot of unnamed/unidentified sources. Gonna write a book? Gotta name your sources.The information, however, is compelling. I do believe Bonds juiced up with steroids he received through BALCO. And I believe doezens of others did as well.


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.


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.

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.

Kurt Zisa

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

Brian Eshleman

This book did not much scratch my baseball itch. It talked as much about chemistry and about track as it did about baseball. What the book did accomplish is to move my general dislike of Barry Bonds into absolute disgust. His decision to "juice" did not so moved me. I can understand that he had a lot of athletes who wanted to be the best baseball player possible used a chemical advantage to do so under the pressure that they did not want to fall behind. But reading about the way Bonds treated the people around him was discussing. For instance, he told one girlfriend casually that he was going to marry someone else but that their "arrangement" would not change. He was only marrying this other girl so that he could get custody of his kids from his ex-wife. This same unfortunate girlfriend who was berated and manipulated by Bonds also took him at his word that he would buy her a house and quit a respectable job to move as he "requested". Of course Bonds didn't follow through to support her in the course of action he insisted upon, and she fell deeper and deeper in debt.


A fantastic job of investigative reporting and writing. A enjoyable read full of juicy tid-bits, but you just end up feeling bad about the state of baseball and the state of PED in all sports. The real question is who is to blame? I feel like it is an easy answer to just say, “the person taking the PED is to blame” Of course they bear a large part of the responsibility but I don’t think it is that simple. There are so many variable in play; owners want production, they want fans in the seats, the sponsors are throwing around money to the guys who can produce and everyone (including fans & the media) were just turning a blind eye to what was obviously happening. Then all hell breaks loose when the “truth” comes out…yeah right, anyone with common sense knew what was going on and where were all these investigative reports when it was actually happening? The story of Bonds makes him the poster child of the steroids, but Game of Shadows just starches the surface of the bigger problem.

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.


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.

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