Supporters argue that slugger Barry Bonds will go down in history as one of the greatest hitters ever. After all, he is the game’s home run king and possesses seven MVP and eight Gold Glove awards. However, Bonds is dogged with an issue outside the game of baseball, proving to be much more difficult to deal with than any pitcher he has ever faced. That issue, is steroids.
Bonds has been accused for the past several years of using performance-enhancing drugs. From ex-girlfriends to scientists, the number of allegations against Bonds is starting to mirror that of his home run totals. He has repeatedly denied the claims and at one point in 2005, he threatened to quit baseball because he was so exhausted from answering questions about the issue.
Despite Bonds’ adamant denials that he never used performance enhancers, an array of evidence against Bonds has been revealed over the past few years. Victor Conte, founder of the infamous BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative) and a man under indictment by a federal grand jury, admitted to giving performance-enhancing drugs to Greg Anderson, Bonds’ personal trainer. In the book, Game of Shadows, by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, a detailed and exhaustive narrative is presented, documenting Bonds’ involvement with performance-enhancers. Bonds went to court trying to stop the sale of the book, but in his court filings he never denied the veracity of any of the claims in the book.
In the book, the authors wrote that a former girlfriend said Bonds began taking steroids after the 1998 home run chase between heavily muscled Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Kimberly Bell, one of Bonds’ alleged mistresses, claimed he was jealous of the attention that McGwire received for surpassing Roger Maris’ season record of 61.
Before his alleged steroid abuse, Bonds already possessed Hall of Fame credentials. He entered the 1999 season as a 34-year-old with 411 homers. He had won three National League MVPs and seven Gold Gloves. Who knew his most productive years at the plate were still ahead of him?
He was injured for much of the 1999 season, suffering from a left elbow injury, a groin problem, as well as knee inflammation. The various ailments limited him to a then career-low 102 games, but he still managed to bang out 34 homers. In 2000, he had his best power season to date, going yard 49 times. However, even with all the long balls, Bonds couldn’t overcome his reputation for failing in the postseason. In the 2000 National League Division Series, he hit a paltry .176 as the Mets punched out the Giants in four games.
In 2001, Bonds had what can only be described as a monster season. He hit 73 homers, which broke McGwire’s three-year-old mark of 70, and set major league records for slugging percentage (.863) and walks (171). It ranks as one of the best offensive seasons ever, and he won the first of four consecutive MVP awards. But with the spotlight yet again bestowed upon him, fans began to notice some changes in his physique. The new Bonds was a great deal heavier than he had been just a few years earlier. Before the All-Star Break that season, the Contra Costa Times felt the need to defend the bulky slugger.
In 2002, Bonds had another eye-popping season, winning his first batting title (.370) and blasting his 600th career homer. Bonds reached another milestone in 2002, making his first World Series appearance and finally shedding his image as a guy who would choke under postseason pressure.
Through his first five playoff series with the Pirates and Giants, he hit just one home run in 32 games. In just one series against the Braves, he homered three times as the Giants captured the 2002 NLDS with relative ease. He was solid again in the National League Championship Series, as the Giants dispatched the Cardinals in five games.
The 2002 World Series would completely revolve around Bonds as he homered four times in just 17 at bats. In past postseasons, Bonds had expanded his strike zone, but by then, he was not only a bigger, stronger hitter, he was also a more disciplined one as well. He was as likely to chase a bad pitch as he was to declare that most of his success was due to a chemical romance.
In the World Series, the Angels walked him a monumental 13 times in seven games. Commentators throughout the country squawked at how fans of the game were being robbed by the Halos’ cowardly strategy. Despite the pitch-arounds, however, Bonds put the Giants in position to win it all. Needing just one more victory to clinch the title, they held a 5-0 lead in the seventh inning of Game 6, but then everything fell apart. The Angels made the biggest comeback for a team facing elimination in a World Series, and won 6-5. Bonds bobbled a single in eighth inning to aid in the meltdown. The Angels eventually won Game 7 and thus far, his first and only shot at a title ring eluded him.
Bonds won his sixth MVP in 2003, but lost his father, former Giants outfielder Bobby Bonds, after a long bout with cancer. He won another batting title and his fourth straight MVP in 2004 – no other player has won more two in a row – but trouble lurked. On Dec. 3, 2004, The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Bonds had told the BALCO grand jury he had unknowingly used a clear substance and a cream supplied by BALCO. When Bonds returned to spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz. the media wanted to talk about BALCO. Bonds didn’t, and a testy relationship grew testier, culminating in a press conference in which he blamed the media for ruining his life and his family. During the tirade, Bonds threatened to leave the game.
Barry didn’t walk away in 2005 – and if he had, he would have limped. He had three knee surgeries and missed most of the season, coming back on Sept. 12. In his first at-bat in more than 11 months, he engaged in an epic duel with Adam Eaton. On the 11th pitch, Bonds drove the ball on a line to the wall in left center field for a double. Bonds wound up with only 42 at-bats in that season, but he managed to crack five round-trippers.
By now, the Giants had an aging roster and were no longer a contending team. Bonds’ chase of Henry Aaron’s home run record drew most of the attention. Some doubters wondered if Bonds was healthy enough to get the needed at-bats to break the record. He started slowly at the plate, going homerless until his 17th game of the season. He eventually got going and his seventh home run of the season came on May 28, when he took one out of AT&T Park against the Rockies’ Byung-Hyun Kim, passing Babe Ruth as the No.2 home run hitter. Bonds finished strong, batting .270 with 26 homers.
There was only one more summit to conquer – Hank Aaron’s 755. Bonds entered the season needing 22 to become the new home run champion. In San Francisco, he was a beloved hero, but on the road fans taunted him constantly about steroid use.
The main suspense in Bonds’ home run chase centered on if Aaron or Commissioner Bud Selig would be present for the record breaker (neither was). On August 7, Bond passed Aaron on the all-time home run list, with the record-setting blow coming off Washington hurler Mike Bacsik in San Francisco. The ball went over the wall in right center and was caught by a New York man who auctioned it off.
Fashion designer Mark Ecko eventually bought the ball for $750,000 and ran an Internet poll, allowing the public to decide if it should be sent to Cooperstown or blasted into space. The votes showed most wanted the piece of baseball history sent to the Hall of Fame, but with some mark denoting the suspicious circumstances surrounding the achievement. So the ball will eventually be sent to the HOF, but with a big, black asterisk branded into the side of it.
Bonds on the web
Barry’s own site, which includes his personal journal, statistics, bio, photo gallery.
Rotoworld.com: Barry Bonds page
Rotoworld page; contains updates on Bonds’ impact as a fantasy player.
To The Babe ... And Beyond
MLB site documenting Bonds’ home run chase through the end of 2006 season.
Fans on bonds
Sign generator let’s you see your message to Bonds on a banner.
A Bonds fan share some of his photos of the slugger, which he send will for free.
Latest on Bonds
Bonds ended the 2007 season with 762 career bombs as baseball’s new all-time circuit clout king. But after 15 seasons with the Giants, he is going to have to find another team. The Giants finally decided to part with the slugger and concentrate on rebuilding their farm system with younger players.
News and Commentary
Britannica blog: Barry Bonds and "Urban Myths" about steroids
Gary Gaffney, a professor of psychiatry, takes apart some media “myths’ about Bonds.
Sports Ilustrated: The Documentation
Exerpt from the book Game of Shadows.
Oakland Tribune: Bonds threatens to sue detractors
Bonds hires two Bay Area lawyers to go after private citizens who say bad stuff about him.
Vote756.com: The Public has Spoken
Final breakdown of voting on what to do with the record-setting home run ball.
On how steroids are unimportant
"I think we have other issues in this country to worry about that are a lot more serious. Talk about the athletes that are helping [Hurricane] Katrina. Ask yourselves how much money y'all personally donated and have helped. You know what? There are still other issues that are more important [than steroid use in baseball]. Right now people are losing lives and don't have homes. I think that's a little more serious, a lot more serious. I've been tarnished in baseball for years and years, brother. There's nothing you guys can write or people can say that will ever fix that. It doesn't matter anymore. I go out there and enjoy the game."
On being hounded about steroids
"What did I do? What did I do? What are you going to apologize for when you're wrong? This is old stuff. I mean, it's like watching Sanford and Son. It's just rerun after rerun after rerun. It's almost comical, basically. We've got alcohol that's the No. 1 killer in America, and we legalize that. You've got tobacco, No. 2 or 3 killer in America. We legalize that. There's other issues. It's become Hard Copy all day long. Are you guys jealous? Are you upset? Disappointed? What? ..."
"You wanted me to jump off the bridge, I finally have jumped. You wanted to bring me down, you've finally brought me and my family down. Finally done it. From everybody, all of you. So now go pick a different person. I'm done."
On the legitimacy of his record
"This record is not tainted at all, at all, period. You guys can say whatever you want."