What a Surprise!
December 12, 2004

It just gets better and better, doesn't it? 

The steroid controversy is about to go nuclear with the latest revelations by the news media that both Bonds and Giambi admitted before a grand jury last year that they used steroids.  Both players have spent the past year vehemently denying using steroids at any point during their careers after testifying under oath otherwise.  Giambi came clean on everything in his grand jury testimony, stating that he had been using them for several years (since 2001) and that he had petitioned Bonds' personal trainer and long-time friend Greg Anderson in November of  2002 for whatever Bonds was using.  Despite being given immunity from further prosecution in the case, Giambi will undoubtedly become the primary target of public ridicule in this sordid episode for his candor.  Bonds, on the other hand, will probably get off lightly because a) he said he didn't know he was using steroids, b)  he said he only used them for one year (2003), c) he said he didn't think they affected his performance and d) because baseball will want to mute the steroid issue as much as possible as he passes Ruth and Aaron on the all-time home run list. 
But for us to believe Bonds' statement that he only began using steroids in 2003 and even then he did so unknowingly, we'd have to believe that the written schedules that show Bonds taking HGH, Depo-Testosterone, Clomid, Modafinil, Trenbolone, insulin and EPO (along with the pricing information) beginning in 2001 that were found in Anderson's possession were falsified, and that his long time friend and personal trainer would deliberately jeopardize his relationship by lying to his most prominent client by secretly giving him steroids.  Also, how does Bonds know that he unknowingly took steroids?  Did Anderson tell him afterwards?  If the person telling Bonds that he took steroids lied to him in the first place about giving them to him, why would that person be trustworthy after the fact?  Every baseball player who was called to testify in the case is linked to Anderson, and only because they approached him about getting whatever it was that Bonds was taking.  In Giambi's testimony, he plainly stated that Anderson specified everything that he gave him in 2003 and that both had acknowledged that each product was a steroid. 

Bonds says he didn't know he was using until after the 2003 season, and was only using in 2003.  Should we then imagine that Anderson casually confessed to him in one of his post-season workout sessions, "Oh, by the way, I've been giving you steroids for the past year" with Bonds then replying, "Whatever"?   He certainly didn't fire Anderson for a deception that could've cost him his health, career and legacy.  In his testimony, Bonds says he was interested in "nutritional issues" even going so far as to hire a personal cook and a "nutritionist at Stanford", yet never bothered to ask what supplements his friend and trainer was giving him on a daily basis.  Bonds also states that he didn't feel he was getting anything out of the stuff Anderson was giving him, but continued to use it anyway because Anderson "was his friend"; this despite paying him $15,000 a year.  If the supplements weren't working, is it realistic that a man making $17 million per year would not shell out a little extra to get supplements that worked?   Is it me or could anyone who would buy Bonds' story at this point probably also be immune to repeated hammer blows to the skull?

If you need help understanding what Bonds was reportedly taking, you're not alone... I did too.  So I did some research.  One of the most effective methods for stacking (or combining steroids and supplements in body building) especially with older athletes is mixing HGH injections, a steroid like Depo-Testosterone or Trenbolone plus insulin injections.  The HGH or Human Growth Hormone is naturally produced by the body throughout one's life but production peaks from adolescence until the early 20s.  Then the body slowly decreases production by between 1% and 3% each year afterwards.  It is impossible for the body to build new muscle without it, but it also helps metabolism, brain function and regeneration of damaged tissue.  Insulin injections are used to offset the down regulation of insulin sensitivity (insulin resistance) that commonly accompany HGH injections.  Combined, they give the body the muscle generation potential of a 20-year old; adding a steroid yeilds muscle mass gains that would otherwise be physically impossible.  EPO improves cell oxagenation, allowing for longer and more strenuous workouts.  Clomid is a testosterone stimulant that helps the body stave off many of the cosmetically unpleasant side-effects that are common to prolonged steroid use.  HGH also helps in this capacity as well, but it's common side effect is an enlargement of the skull, something that has been noted of Bonds by many observers.  Modafinil is a stimulant which would be used to keep energy levels high during workouts.  In short, using all these drugs in concert creates a superhuman workout machine capable of prolonged strenuous workouts and quick recovery.  It's safe to say that no high profile athlete with Bonds' natural ability has ever stacked that combination before because some of the drugs are fairly new and it would require a particular and specific knowledge to get the mix right.  Given his associations with Anderson and Conte, this may explain why no one has ever done what Bonds is currently doing and why his contemporaries who have been using lesser steroids like THG, or using steroids but not in concert with other drugs have not reached the same levels.  Given the lack of a drug policy in 2001 and the new vigor with which baseball seeks to implement a competent policy now, it's unlikely anyone will ever have that opportunity again.  Athletes who go off steroids are commonly able to maintain 80%-90% of their gains in the short term as long as they stay healthy and continue their workout regimen. 

Lost in the cacophony surrounding this "news" is the fact that a federal crime was committed when this grand jury testimony was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle.  Many in the media are pointing the finger at the government for the leaks, but why would the government jeopardize having their own case thrown out of court?  Because it's not strong enough?  Given the amount of taped testimony and documented proof they obtained from their raids, that seems somewhat far-fetched.  I do think it's interesting that Greg Anderson's attorney keeps beating everyone to the microphone every time there is a leak about how this case should be dismissed.  All of the significant players in the scenario seem to be fingering Anderson as the BALCO fall guy - BALCO prez Victor Conte says in interviews on both ABC and ESPN that he gave Anderson the steroids, and the players say they got them from Anderson - so doesn't Anderson stand to benefit the most from a dismissal of the charges due to the leaks?  Is this a case, like when someone farts silently amidst company, that he/she who smelled it first, likely dealt it?  It's not like they can blame this stink on the sleeping dog nearby.  But I digress...

I'm not going to advocate for Giambi, but it is a shame that for his openness and honesty in his testimony he will likely suffer the most.  We teach our children that honesty is the best policy, but in our actions (at least in these actions) we demonstrate that honesty is a path that sometimes leads to ruin and public contempt.  The Yankees are trying to void his contract, which is frankly pretty hilarious.  They are hoping to claim that they didn't know that Giambi was using steroids when they signed him to what now looks like one of the worst contracts in recent memory.  They will try to convince anyone who will listen that they didn't have the wherewithal for due diligence on one of the five most high profile players in all of baseball when they signed him.  What a joke!  Their desperate attempt to play the victim is nearly as absurd as the steroid scandal itself. 

And this notion that is coming out of the New York media that the Yankees are the standard of virtue and integrity is particularly ridiculous.  The team came into being because Joseph Gordon and Frank Farrell, significant players in one of the most corrupt city governments in US history, Tammany Hall, lifted the team from Baltimore.  Farrell himself was the head of one of New York's largest gambling syndicates.  The award-winning book, Where They Ain't by Burt Solomon details how the move came about.  Fast forward a hundred years and one finds similar corruption at the top.  George Steinbrenner is the only person in the history of baseball to have been banned twice: once for making illegal campaign contributions (indicted on multiple counts but plea bargained a cozy settlement) and the second time for paying a loan shark to find (or as it turned out in this case, manufacture) information that would be used to discredit and potentially indict one of his own players!  The more one knows about the history of baseball, the more one understands that the Yankees are at the farthest reaches away from virtue and integrity.   Their entire history is a textbook on immoral behavior and corporate excess.  They deserve Jason Giambi and his bloated contract.

And what about the media?  After months of cautioning that people should shut up about Bonds and the steroids until something was proven, despite inescapable statistical, anecdotal and photographic evidence, they now act shocked that the allegations have proved to be true.  This is like the Pete Rose situation all over again.  It took them 14 years to accept the Dowd Report's findings.  Even then it wasn't until Rose admitted to his gambling in his own book that they finally accepted it as true.  The Dowd Report presented a mountain of evidence against Rose, and when I say a mountain I mean literally a conference room full of depositions, phone records and affidavits chronicling over 400 bets that Rose placed on baseball.  And yet, most of the sportswriters kept saying "until there is proof, we have to believe he is innocent" while celebrating him solely as the Hit King.  Apparently "proof", in this case, could only take the form of a signed confession by Rose.  The fact is, the sports media so badly wanted to believe that Rose was innocent that they went out of their way to not look at the evidence until Rose himself actually came forth with a mea culpa.  They wanted to look the other way as long as Rose was willing to deny it.  And so was Major League Baseball, who in recent years had considered re-instating him to the game despite the findings of their own investigation.

Just in case you missed out on Rose, we are seeing a repeat performance with the steroids.  Once again we heard loud pronouncements of innocence and defenses of virtue and honor from the sportswriters despite obvious evidence that Giambi and Bonds have been using for several years.  Very few talked about how much farther Bonds was suddenly able to hit the ball since 2001.  Even fewer looked at the unchanged rate of his other numbers when the statistical noise of the intentional walks were removed.  Some talked about how much muscle mass he gained in such a short period of time, but dared not speculate how he could have bulked up so quickly.  Jon Saraceno and Christine Brennan were the only major sports columnists I know of who dared to state the obvious.  Once again, the vast majority in the sports media went out of their way to not see the evidence.  Until now. 

So where do we go from here?  We will undoubtedly hear pundits and fans call for the banishment of both players, or that their records be stricken.  We will undoubtedly hear some say that Bonds is being unfairly prosecuted because of his race, that Mark McGwire's records were never tainted despite his use of androstendione, a supplement with steroid-like effects.  There will even be some who ask us to consider the possibility that the steroids had no effect on these players' performances.  And we will undoubtedly hear more and more sportswriters express their surprise that the allegations of steroid use turned out to be true.  These notions and the people who forward them should be ignored.  Moreover, the last thing that the game needs is moralizing from sportswriters who were too cowardly to expose cheating when they saw it. 

We do know that Bonds wasn't considered the greatest player ever before he started taking steroids - he was, however, among the top 10 - and we certainly will never know what he would have done without them although his numbers in the preceding seasons give us a pretty good idea that they would be substantially less than what they were with them.  But just like we don't know how many home runs Ruth might have hit had he not spent the first six seasons of his career as a pitcher or how many he would have hit had he faced integrated competition, each person will have to come to their own conclusions about what is missing, what was unfairly added and where Bonds' place in history should be.   If there is one good thing that has come out of these revelations, it is that we now have two more important data points in a study of how much steroids affect performance in baseball.