Game of Shadows: The Aftermath (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday February 27, 2007 12:09PM; Updated: Tuesday February 27, 2007 6:17PM
The Giants did their best to ignore Game of Shadows. In the front office, denial reigned. Asked about the furor over Bonds and drugs, owner Peter Magowan said, "None of it detracts from his performance." Giants fans continued to cheer for Bonds, but their response was muted. Bonds was closing on the mark of the most famous baseball player ever, and the Giants couldn't even fill their ballpark. Beyond the all-consuming steroids story, Bonds appeared to be fading rapidly as a ballplayer. His arthritic, surgically repaired knee continued to give him trouble. He ran poorly, had little range in the field, and only occasionally showed flashes of his old offensive power. His season was starting to have the look and feel of Mark McGwire's pathetic final year in the game.
On May 7 in Philadelphia, before another hostile crowd, Bonds hit a Bondsian home run to give him 713 for his career, a 450-foot shot that left him one shy of The Babe. As the Giants returned home, hundreds of reporters descended on San Francisco to mark the moment Bonds passed Ruth. It was a long wait.
Bonds didn't homer for 13 days, tying Ruth's mark of 714 across the Bay in Oakland on May 20. That home run was greeted with more disrespect. The fan who caught the ball, Tyler Snyder, 19, was asked if he would consider giving it to Bonds. "Hell no, I hate the guy," Snyder replied. The next day, the Oakland Tribune illustrated its package of stories on Bonds' home run with a cartoon asterisk that took up much of the front page.
After the series against the A's, the Giants went back to San Francisco for six more games. By the final day of the homestand, Bonds still hadn't passed Ruth. Once, the Giants public relations staff had been forced to assign seats in the press box for the mob of reporters covering Bonds. Now the media contingent had dwindled to the point that manager Felipe Alou joked, "I'm gonna be here all by myself" by the time Bonds hit the home run they were waiting for.
Finally, on May 28, just before he and the Giants were set to go back on the road, Bonds hit No. 715. In the fourth inning, after walking Giant Steve Finley, Colorado's Byung Hyun Kim threw a full-count fastball to Bonds, who crushed it. The 445-foot shot sailed into the center field bleachers, ending what the Washington Post described as a "tedious and, in many ways, uncomfortable spectacle."
Everything seemed wrong about the moment. As the play had unfolded, Giants announcer Dave Flemming began what he thought would be an historic call in his career. "Three-and-two. Finley runs," Flemming said into his microphone. "The payoff pitch. A swing and a drive to deep cen--" At that instant, Flemming's mike went dead.
When Bonds crossed home plate, he was greeted only by his 16-year-old son, Nikolai. Virtually all of the Giants remained in the dugout, where they congratulated the slugger who was now second only to Hank Aaron.
In the bleachers the scrum of fans never got the chance to wrestle for possession of a ball that under different circumstances might have fetched millions. Instead, the ball bounced out of the bleachers and landed in the hands of a man waiting in line at a concession stand to buy beer and peanuts. He had left his seat completely unaware Bonds was scheduled to come to bat that inning.
If Game of Shadows persuaded many in baseball that Bonds was a drug cheat, the book also seemed to energize the federal investigation of the Giants star. A year had passed since Kimberly Bell gave the BALCO grand jury the outlines of a perjury and tax-evasion case against the Home Run King: his admitted use of steroids back in 1999, the $80,000 cash from memorabilia sales that he gave her to buy the house in Scottsdale. But in the months that followed her testimony, the probe seemed to languish. Then, after the SI excerpt, a flurry of grand jury subpoenas went out.
The point man, as usual, was IRS Agent Jeff Novitzky. He began a search for more proof that Bonds had lied under oath in 2003 when he testified that he had never used steroids. The agent sought to re-interview the other baseball players who had been witnesses at the BALCO grand jury, including Yankees Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield and retired Giants catcher Benito Santiago, who had been assured he would pass baseball's drug test in 2003 because he was using the same stuff as Bonds. This time, the focus was not on the players' own drug use, but on what they knew about Bonds and steroids. Novitzky also reached out to BALCO defendants, Giants personnel, and present and former Bonds confidantes.
In his travels, the agent carried a copy of Game of Shadows. "It's the Bible of the steroid s--t for him," said a witness he approached. Not everyone was glad to see him. Sheffield referred Novitzky to his lawyers. A nervous Giambi met with the agent in New York but professed to know little more than what he had already said under oath.
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