Did jealousy prompt Barry Bonds to become involved with steroids?
That is the scenario posed to me by a person who saw him, in a very short period of time, turn from one of the steadiest hitters in baseball to a muscle-bound slugger who began crushing home runs in record numbers.
On Tuesday, it was reported that the San Francisco Giants slugger, along with Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield of the New York Yankees, had been given steroids by Greg Anderson, one of four men indicted last month in a federal grand jury probe into the distribution of performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports in the U.S., and the personal trainer for Bonds.
Bonds, who holds the major league single-season home run record (73) and is within reach of the career record for home runs, is at the center of the ever-growing scandal, but continues to maintain that he has never taken steroids.
In an effort to try and separate the wheat from the chaff, I had a lengthy telephone conversation with a team source who worked with Bonds for several years in the Bay Area, including the 2001 season when he set the single-season homer mark.
He offered me his honest opinion with one stipulation — the request of anonymity.
“I always try to think the best about somebody,” my observer stated. “So I am holding out hope (that he didn’t use steroids). Barry is a unique guy. He dances to his own music.
“I take it all back to the 1998 season when Mark McGwire (who hit 70 home runs and set a new record)and Sammy Sosa (who had 66) had the big home run race.
“In the early to mid-1990s, the debate was: ‘Who is the best player in baseball, Barry Bonds or Ken Griffey Jr.?’
“Here was a guy (Bonds) who was clearly looked at as one of the best. That year he batted .303, with 37 HRs, 122 RBIs.”
That would be a career year for many players, but Bonds is always expected to put up numbers like that. But 1998 was unlike any season in baseball for many years.
“At the time, Barry was saying nothing but really good things about McGwire and Sosa. But he couldn’t have been saying that and not thinking inside, ‘Hey, I’ve been a much better all-around player over the course of time than these guys and yet I am way in their shadow and people aren’t even talking about me anymore.’ “
The next year (1999) Bonds was injured (he had elbow surgery) and only played in 102 games. He hit .262, with 34 HRs and 83 RBIs.
This is when my analyst started to notice a radical difference in the composition of Bonds’ body.
“Not so coincidentally, around 2000 and 2001, Barry started to get much bigger.
“Up until that point, he was not hitting home runs that were going out of sight, very often. Then McGwire and Sosa start hitting these mammoth home runs. Both of those guys were bigger than Barry.
“Once Bonds started to kick it up and go after the record (McGwire’s 70). He wasn’t just hitting home runs. They were all tape-measure jobs. There was hardly anything he hit that wasn’t just an amazing shot.”
I ask my insider what he is basing his opinion on?
“This is an observation based on instincts.”
He refers to the statistics Bonds has put up in the past few seasons to bolster the case.
“In 2000, he had 49 home runs, which was the best of his career at that time. The following year is when he hit 73.
“In the last four years he has had just about the four greatest home run years of his career.”
This is significant, because no other player in the history of the game has been as productive at an advanced age like Bonds has.
In the past four seasons, Bonds, who is now 39, has blasted 213 home runs.
By comparison, Babe Ruth cracked 170 homers in the four seasons when he was at the age Bonds is now.
Hank Aaron belted 163 homers over the same span in his career, while Willie Mays hit just 96.
The numbers just don’t seem to add up, even for a superstar like Bonds.
“Barry has always been a little secretive with his workouts. He was a man of mystery. You knew he worked hard in the offseason.
“You have to work hard — even with steroids — to get to where you’re at. Taking steroids alone doesn’t do it. You still have to be very dedicated in order to do what you do.”
Now that he has made the case for Bonds using steroids, my source takes the opposite viewpoint just for the sake of balance.
“Where the case for him using steroids doesn’t wash is when you look at how his body hasn’t broken down. Players like Ken Caminiti (who has admitted using steroids) and Jose Canseco had their bodies break down on them later in their careers, but Bonds hasn’t.
“People say, ‘If you take steroids, your body will break down. You will not be able to stay healthy.’ “
When asked deep down what his gut feeling is on the big question about Bonds and the use of steroids, my man is straightforward.
“I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.”
He says that Bonds, who has now won a record six MVP awards, is not your ordinary ballplayer or man.
“Barry is a weird guy. He has his opinions and he doesn’t care what people think about them.
“I just go back to watching his psyche when McGwire and Sosa were doing their thing, and the timing is kind of interesting.
“Barry was going to be the player of the decade (for the 1990s), and he had not won his fourth MVP award yet (which would make him the first to achieve the honor). He had all of these things that he wanted to accomplish and I just wonder if he was willing to pay the price.
“It (using steroids) would have been easy to rationalize, because everyone was doing it.”
As the conversation winds down, I ask my consultant if he thinks, deep down, Bonds is a bad guy.
“It is hard to answer. There is no question that he grew up in a very dysfunctional family. That affects who you are.”
What he said next was even more provocative.
“His grip on reality is very loose. His world is not the real world. Nobody around him will tell him the truth.
“In a way, I feel sorry for Barry. His life has been so un-normal. It makes me wonder if he is equipped to deal with the rest of his life.”
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