Barry Bonds's Enhancement

By Will, George F. | Newsweek, May 21, 2007 | Go to article overview

Barry Bonds's Enhancement


Will, George F., Newsweek


Byline: George F. Will

Would that Barry Bonds had retired after the 1998 season. He might be happier than he seems to be in his long trudge toward tainted glory. Certainly everyone who cares about baseball, and about the integrity of athletic competition generally, would be spared the disturbing spectacle of his unlovely approach to Henry Aaron's career record of 755 home runs.

The numbers Bonds had put up before the 1999 season were luminous enough to have guaranteed him first-ballot election to the Hall of Fame. He had 411 home runs, 445 stolen bases--he is now the only "500-500" player in history--eight All-Star selections and eight Gold Glove awards. He had won three MVP awards and should have won a fourth that was given to a lesser, but less obnoxious, player.

Since 1998, his gaudy numbers have earned him four more MVP awards. From his 1986 rookie season through 1998, he averaged a home run every 16.1 at-bats (Babe Ruth averaged one every 11.8 at-bats), and his season high was 46. Since 1999, when he turned 35, an age by which most players are past their peak production, he has averaged one every 8.9 at-bats, and in the 2001 season he hit 73. If Bonds, even as he aged, had continued to average one home run every 16.1 at-bats, he would have entered this season at age 42 with 590 home runs, not 734, and Aaron's record would have been beyond his reach.

Equally startling are these numbers: According to Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, the San Francisco Chronicle reporters who wrote "Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal That Rocked Professional Sports," Mike Murphy, equipment manager of the San Francisco Giants, testified 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 7a to 7e, even though while it was expanding he shaved his head. (Bonds reportedly shaved his head because his hair was falling out as a result of steroid use.) And Fainaru-Wada and Williams also say Murphy testified that Bonds's baseball shoe size has changed from 10i to 13.

Steroids, human growth hormone (HGH) and other performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) can cause gradual enlargement of bones in the feet, hands, face, jaw and skull. Bonds has never failed a steroid test, but there is no reliable test for HGH, and chemists concocting PEDs also devise masking ingredients to defeat tests.

Various PEDs can increase muscle mass (and the speed of hitters' bats and pitchers' arms). They can hasten recovery from the exertions of training or competing, and can reduce pain and increase the sort of concentration needed when a 96-mile-per-hour fastball is coming at you during a day game after a night game. George Vecsey, in his short new history of baseball, quotes a player: "The funniest thing I ever saw in baseball was Pete Rose's greenies kicking in during a rain delay." Greenies--amphetamines, a booster fuel for a 162-game season that is played across four time zones--were for years as openly available as sunflower seeds in teams' clubhouses.

The fascinating history of PEDs runs back into history's mists, to potions concocted to increase soldiers' aggressiveness in battle. This history is recounted in Will Carroll's "The Juice: The Real Story of Baseball's Drug Problems," an indispensable guide to today's controversies.

In 1898, a Welsh cyclist in a Paris-to-Bordeaux race died after drinking an alcohol-based product designed to increase stamina and control pain. In 1921, a University of Chicago chemist ground up tons of bulls' testicles and used chemicals to isolate testosterone. By 1932, Carroll writes, sprinters were experimenting with nitroglycerine to dilate their coronary arteries. In 1936, at the Berlin Olympics, injectable testosterone, developed the year before by Nazi doctors for military use, probably helped propel German athletes to 89 medals, more than any other team. …

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