Dave's Sports Views

Analysis, humor and opinion on the sports world

Location: Dallas, Texas, United States

Monday, May 08, 2006

Where has this guy been?

In watching Barry Bonds' press conference following his 713th career home run Sunday night, I began to wonder: Where did Barry Bonds go?

The guy who was peppered by the media in Philadelphia didn't appear to be the same guy who has feuded with reporters, teammates, managers, and fans throughout his major league career.

This guy patiently answered questions ranging from the steroids investigation (he dodged those, but not in a confrontational way) to the impact of potentially passing Babe Ruth to a chat he had with his mother, Pat, which "helped me get my head straight."

At times, Bonds was humorous (asked if he thought of himself as a home run hitter, he said it was hard to avoid when you have 713 home runs) and complimentary (he praised young Phillies hitter Ryan Howard). He also made a strong statement regarding Philadelphia's unforgiving and often abusive fans, saying that many of them had brought their kids to the game, and they'd have to deal with the consequences should their children be so impressionable. (Let's hope Bonds is doing the same thing.)

But while he did get a little testy when reporters tried to slip in steroid questions ("Are we have a baseball discussion or a steroid discussion?"), for the large part, he came across as human and affable. Exhibiting these traits, which Bonds seemingly his misplaced throughout his career, are likely the result of PR advisers trying to help him put on the best face as he approaches Ruth and Hank Aaron. But he showed that he can pull off such an act convincingly. Which leads one to wonder why he couldn't do the same thing in the past.

There's no excusing Bonds' steroid use, and any records he has achieved or will achieve always come with a caveat. But he has to know that maybe the public outcry against him would not be so strong if only he had made some effort to meet people halfway, to show the side of himself that was on display last night. This backlash is something that he brought on himself, in more ways than one.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Book review: The Mess at BALCO

Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams' book, "Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports," paints a seamy picture of the sports world. Based on their reporting and research of BALCO, the Bay Area company that dealt in the steroid business, Game of Shadows tells of the mixture of a businessman hell-bent on making money and athletes equally intent on success in their sports.

The authors introduce Victor Conte, the founder of BALCO, and tell how he evolved the business from one that dealt in nutritional supplements and pioneered study in determining athletes' mineral deficiencies into a drug racket. They also weave into the story the athletes and the co-conspirators who helped bring Conte his famous clients. Chief among these, obviously, is Barry Bonds and his trainer, Greg Anderson.

The story is engrossing, as the authors present their evidence toward those who have already confessed or failed drug tests (such as Jason Giambi and Tim Montgomery) and those for whom the evidence is purely based on the investigation's findings or on Conte's own admissions (Bonds, Marion Jones).

And the story is much more about the demons within us than about our better angels. Consider all of these entities and their likely legacies as they relate to the BALCO case:
  • Conte -- Not only is the BALCO founder portrayed as a huckster and a hanger-on, he flaunts much of his malfeasance, including a self-serving interview with 20/20 that led his own attorney to resign because Conte was determined to tell the world his story.
  • Bonds -- Portrayed as exceptionally vain, motivated by his own insecurity and need for attention. Bonds seemed to play his best, the authors argued, when he felt as if the whole world was against him. Being accused of juicing is probably the best thing that happened to his baseball career, next to the actual juicing, of course.
  • Sports -- Most, particularly baseball, turned a blind eye to much of the drug abuse, because it would have robbed them of stars and storylines. Bud Selig and Giants owner Peter Magowan come across as particularly spineless. You can count the U.S. Olympic Committee among the guilty, as they railed over the years about doping by athletes from East Germany and Russia while ignoring many of the situations involving their own athletes.
  • The Government -- Yes, they took the lead on bringing the BALCO case to light, led by agent Jim Novitzky, who personally visited BALCO's offices late at night and picked through their trash looking for evidence. But a cynic can look at the case's ascendance to the Justice Department as one in which a group of baseball fans, including Attorney General John Ashcroft, tried to preserve the sport's sacred records. And when the government had a chance to force the case, by identifying the accused -- putting real names and faces behind the misbehavior and elevating the crisis in sports -- they backed off and worked a plea-bargain deal. As nefarious as Bonds and Conte come across, the person I am most disappointed with in reading the book is Kevin Ryan, the San Francisco-based U.S. Attorney who initiated the plea bargain, likely to help bolster the case for his own ascendance to the federal bench.
  • The Media -- A classic group of followers. When Mark McGwire was caught with Androstenedione during his record-breaking 70-homer season of 1998, AP reporter Steve Wilstein became a virtual pariah. But aside from the authors, SI's Tom Verducci, and the Boston Herald's Howard Bryant, most reporters were way behind the steroids in baseball story, either out of laziness, ignorance, or misguided sanctity toward the sport. Let's put it this way: Had the likes of Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco not come clean and defined the widespread drug problems in baseball, we might never have seen Selig take action against steroid and amphetamine abuse.
  • Fans -- Yep, that's right. We're partly to blame. What do we want from sports? Entertainment and success. We want to enjoy the games, and we want our teams to win. How do they achieve that? Well, we're not quite as demanding about those methods. Fans all over the country loved the McGwire-Sosa duel. Now we're shocked (SHOCKED!) that they might have used steroids to produce it. And we feel -- pardon the pun -- cheated.
Game of Shadows is meaty, concise, compelling and readable. It's not exceptionally written: the reporters write for newspapers and have a bit of trouble with book-length format. Every chapter ends with some sort of a teaser sentence, as if they're begging you to read on, when the material and narrative flow should take care of that. And despite the title and the cover photo, this is not a Bonds book. His motives are addressed, but not detailed, and there's only cursory biographical information. I suppose I should read Jeff Pearlman's new biography of Bonds for more of that, and I will.

But first, I need to take a shower and cleanse myself of the material in Game of Shadows, and maybe first read Clemente, David Maraniss' new biography of a much more admirable sports star.


Monday, May 01, 2006

Draft recap

After being out of town for a few days, here are some thoughts on the draft. I'll try not to repeat too much that's already been said in the reams of postmortems.

Good drafts

New York Jets -- They got two of the very best offensive linemen in the first round in D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold and could have corraled a sleeper quarterback in Kellen Clemens in the second round.

San Francisco -- Vernon Davis and Manny Lawson made a great tandem in the first round. Brandon Williams is a versatile player and it will be interesting to see what they do with Michael Robinson.

Denver -- Jay Cutler has to be thrilled to partner with Mike Shanahan. A great move to trade up since it seemed like Denver was a quarterback away from the Super Bowl last year. The Broncos got Javon Walker in a trade and picked up two potential steals late in Elvis Dumervil and Greg Eslinger.

Philadelphia -- Andy Reid loves drafting linemen early, and he picked up Brodrick Bunkley in the first round and Winston Justice (a probable first-round pick if not for off-the-field problems) in the second.

Green Bay/Cleveland -- The Packers and Browns need warm bodies and they pulled off trades to end up with 12 and 10 picks, respectively. And they scored at the top with A.J. Hawk and Kamerion Wimbley.

Bad drafts

Buffalo -- Two first-round picks that were real reaches at their spot, in Donte Whitner and John McCargo.

Washington -- Maybe the Redskins should just sit out the draft every year. Daniel Snyder only seems to be happy if he's throwing around millions at free agents. The 'Skins had one pick before the fifth round.

Miami -- The trend continues for the Dolphins who move picks as if they have bird flu. They got decent talent in Jason Allen and Derek Hagan on the first day, but had only six picks -- half of them in the final round.

New York Giants -- They waited too long to add defensive backs, a big need. They drafted one in the fifth round and one in the seventh.

San Diego -- Antonio Cromartie was a gamble, but probably one worth taking. I don't really get the Charlie Whitehurst pick in the third round as it sends mixed signals to Philip Rivers.

  • Based on my analysis last week of the draft positions that had produced the most talent, things look good for Haloti Ngata, Wimbley, Allen, Cromartie, Davin Joseph and Joseph Addai. The underachieving positions means things don't bode as well for Lawson, Santonio Holmes and Mangold. Not the way I would predict it, as I think Lawson, Holmes and Mangold were all solid picks. The players I'd be most worried about being busts in the first round are Bobby Carpenter, Cromartie, Laurence Maroney, McCargo, and Mathias Kiwanuka.
  • Pick that everyone's lauding that I don't like -- Maroney. If anyone can keep him straight, it's Bill Belichick, but, while he didn't have any real problems at Minnesota, he often seemed disinterested. Also, he wasn't an every-down back at any point in his career there.
  • Pick that everyone's questions but I like -- Tamba Hali to Kansas City. I always have a bias toward players that make plays in big games. Hali was a fierce player last year and he has the personal history that leads me to believe he's never going to take the game for granted. Maybe another Neil Smith in the making in K.C.
  • The quarterback situation: Vince Young to Tennessee was a bit of surprise, especially with Steve McNair on the outs. Young could use a veteran who also likes to run as a mentor for a year or two, but Norm Chow should be able to devise an offense that plays to Young's strengths. Matt Leinart walks into a wonderful situation in Arizona, with no pressure to take the helm this year, three terrific offensive weapons around him and a good offensive mind in Denny Green. Cutler, as discussed earlier, has to be pinching himself. He probably couldn't walk into a better situation, and could have the same fate as Ben Roethlisberger, the 11th pick two years ago.
  • As for the top pick, I was stunned when I woke up Saturday and heard that the Texans had reached a deal to draft Mario Williams. Even though they have more needs than another running back, Bush is hard to pass up and, as Tom Jackson nailed on draft day, Williams' career will always be viewed side-by-side with Bush's to determine if Houston made the right pick. This is one of the gutsiest moves I've seen a team make at the top of the draft; whether it was the smartest remains to be seen. For Bush, it could be something that motivates him even more toward greatness. No. 1 overall running backs in the past 30 years have had injury-plagued careers, while Tony Dorsett, Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk were all drafted No. 2. (So was Blair Thomas.) My bet is that Bush becomes an instant star, and he sounds genuinely excited to play a role off the field in New Orleans, too.


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