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Cheaters never win

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, let’s get this straight right from the top: Barry Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs.

How do we know?

He said so himself.



According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Bonds told a federal grand jury in 2003 that he used a clear substance and a cream supplied by BALCO, the Burlingame laboratory caught up in the doping scandal that has implicated athletes from not only baseball, but also track & field and football.

During that testimony, though, Bonds said he didn’t actually know the substances supplied by his trainer, Greg Anderson, were performance-enhancing. The Chronicle quoted Bonds through testimony leaked from his grand jury appearance.




And considering a guy named Troy Ellerman was sentenced to 21Ú2 years in prison for leaking it, I’m guessing it was an accurate account of what went on inside that room.

“I never asked Greg” about what the products contained, Bonds testified. “When he said it was flaxseed oil, I just said, ‘Whatever.'”

Indeed … whatever.

We have since learned that “the cream” and “the clear” were two designer steroids created at BALCO. We’ve also learned that his trainer – yes, the very same Greg Anderson who supplied Bonds with those very same substances – pleaded guilty to steroid distribution and money laundering stemming from the BALCO investigation.

According to the book “Game of Shadows,” penned by a pair of Chronicle writers, Mark Fainara-Wada and Lance Williams, federal prosecutors have in their possession files and calendars that clearly kept track of the lengthy use of performance-enhancing drugs by Bonds.

They have those documents and all the other information provided by BALCO founder and president Victor Conte, who reportedly sang like a canary after investigators raided the Burlingame company. Conte, the book alleges, implicated 27 athletes as users. Fifteen reportedly were from track & field, seven from the National Football League and five from Major League Baseball, including Barry Bonds.

Of course, there’s more … so much more.

We could talk about the claims of his former mistress, who said Bonds was absolutely obsessed with the 1998 home run chase of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, or the testimony of the Giants’ equipment manager, who said that since Bonds became a Giant in 1993, the size of his uniform jersey has gone from 42 to 52, his cap size has expanded from 71Ú8 to 71Ú4, and his baseball shoe size has changed from 10 1Ú2 to 13.

But, because he has never failed a drug test – which, I believe, was actually the whole point of BALCO – all of the evidence gathered is considered by many as only circumstantial, not direct proof of his guilt.

That said, plenty of people have been convicted in court rooms across this country under the weight of less circumstantial evidence.

And make no mistake, whether he’s ever convicted for perjury or anything else, Bonds – and his brethren of baseball’s steroid era – did commit a crime against our national pastime.

Remember flipping through your baseball card collection, comparing the numbers on the back of that 1972 Hank Aaron card against the stats on that ’87 Andre Dawson?

Remember wondering how the best seasons by those home run hitters might compare to the likes of a Maris or a Mantle? Killebrew or Musial?

Or even the Babe himself?

The statistics were sacrosanct, certainly spanning generations and capable of spurring conversations – if not all-out arguments – about who was better, your favorite players or those of your grandfather.

And now, those numbers no longer provide a link to our pastime’s past.

That bridge was burnt.

Take a quick look at the top 10 all-time single-season home run leaders. Some might say it’s just an example of the evolution of athletes. I say it’s Exhibit “A” in the case against baseball’s steroid era. And seven of those top 10 slots were filled within – coincidentally enough – a five-year span.

1. Bonds (73) 2001

2. McGwire (70) 1998

3. Sosa (66) 1998

4. McGwire (65) 1999

5. Sosa (64) 2001

6. Sosa (63) 1999

7. Maris (61) 1961

8. Ruth (60) 1927

9. Ruth (59) 1921

10. McGwire (58) 1997

Should they have an asterisk next to their numbers, declaring them members of a juiced generation?

Don’t ask McGwire, he doesn’t want to talk about the past. And Sosa suddenly forgets how to speak English when the steroids subject comes up.

That leaves Barry, of course.

And he’s already admitted his use, which definitely deserves an asterisk.

In noting the names and numbers on that list, do remember that the single-season, home-run mark had been broken just twice in 71 years before the “magical” summer of 1998, when Big Mac and Slammin’ Sammy “saved” baseball.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard folks defending Bonds by asking why he’s the only player folks are focusing on when speaking of the steroid era.

And they’re right. Clearly, Bonds wasn’t alone in this.

But he did just rise to the top of the heap by blasting No. 756, breaking the most-hallowed record in American sports.

Though Barry Bonds hasn’t ever come across as a real stand-up guy – (You do remember him asking for a reduction in child support, despite his then $43.75 million contract, when baseball went on strike in 1994?) – few would argue against him being one of the greatest to have played the game.

Being the only player to have hit 500 home runs and stolen 500 bases sets him apart.

Yet, now he stands alone not only for what he did on the field, but also how he did it – knowingly or not.

Recently reading a magazine piece on Tony Dungy, the Indianapolis Colts head coach, I came across a Bible verse that Dungy apparently shares with his players to stress the importance of doing the right thing on your way to the top.

If only one reporter would pose it to the new home run king, who wears that gold cross dangling from his left ear.

Matthew 16:26: “What would it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his soul?”

ooo

Brian Hamilton is sports editor at The Union. His column appears Saturdays. Contact him via e-mail at brianh@theunion.com or by phone at 477-4240.*Cheaters never win


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