Finally, Barry Bonds has drawn level with Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record, smashing a ball over the left-field fence at Petco Park in San Diego on Sunday to record homer No.755. Aaron’s mark, which has stood alone and untouched since 1976, is baseball’s most cherished record. For the game’s fans, the figure 755 has come to take on the same significance as 99.94 – Don Bradman’s batting average – for Australian cricket tragics. All that remains now is for Bonds, the San Francisco Giants slugger, to launch one more ball into the bleachers and the chase, and the charade will finally be over.
But the new home-run king will ascend the throne with little fanfare. Bonds, you see, has long been linked with steroid use. He is the central figure in an extraordinary book, Game of Shadows, which focused on his phenomenal late-career performances that have seen him surpass the home-run achievements of Babe Ruth and, any day now, Aaron.
The public reaction to Bonds’ feat has been telling. Up in the stands, fans have made clear their feelings by wearing giant latex syringe outfits – a trend that has caught on among some lining the Tour de France route – and brandishing asterisk signs, the message to Bonds being: you may have the record but it will always be tainted.
Game of Shadows reveals instances of Bonds, in 1998, receiving injections in his buttocks of Winstrol, a powerful steroid. It claimed Bonds also took a wide array of performance-enhancing drugs over at least five seasons in a massive doping regimen.
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The authors, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, claim that by 2001, when Bonds broke Mark McGwire’s single-season home-run record (70) by belting 73, he was using two designer steroids referred to as the Cream and the Clear, as well as insulin, human growth hormone, testosterone decanoate (a fast-acting steroid known as Mexican beans) and trenbolone, a steroid created to improve the muscle quality of cattle.
Depending on the substance, Bonds used the drugs in virtually every conceivable form: injecting himself with a syringe or being injected by his trainer, Greg Anderson, swallowing pills, placing drops of liquid under his tongue, and, in the case of a notorious testosterone-based cream, developed by San Francisco’s controversial drug lab BALCO, applying it topically.
It is the latest on-going instalment in the seemingly endless drugs-in-sport debate/debacle. Baseballers one week, Tour de France cyclists the next. And now, quite out of the blue, it has become AFL football’s turn.
Outspoken Western Bulldogs, and former Brisbane player Jason Akermanis made it known during a newspaper interview last week he suspected one opponent – whose endurance levels had improved dramatically from one season to the next – had been taking the banned substance EPO which enhances endurance. He ran “like Superman” during one match in 2004, Akermanis said.
While Akermanis refused to name the player, Channel Seven over the weekend identified him as West Coast’s Michael Braun and now all hell has broken loose. Braun’s father is on the warpath looking to “throttle” Akermanis, the AFL is considering sanctioning Akermanis for bringing the game into disrepute and Braun himself is thinking about legal action.
There is not one shred of evidence to suggest Braun has done anything illegal but, given that some AFL players can go for 12 months without an anti-doping test – 500 tests are conducted by the AFL each year for the 640-plus players – and that EPO can often be untraceable after 48 hours, who can truly say what the extent of the problem is?