Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Gary and Barry

Just in time for the playoffs, Sports Illustrated has an article about Gary Sheffield, Barry Bonds, and their controversial training sessions in the winter of 2002.

The big headline is that Sheffield admitted to a grand jury that he unintentionally took steroids. This is bound to provoke a big "yeah, sure" reaction from the public at large, but it's one of the possibilities that has really intrigued me in this BALCO situation.

I mean, if you were a supplements company, or a big-time trainer, and you wanted to build yourself the kind of mega-millionaire clientelle that pays for your retirement, why wouldn't you slip an athlete steroids, if you could do so surreptitiously?

What people want from all these trainers and supplement peddlers are results. They want to get bigger, see decreased body fat, do bigger bench presses. The one thing that's certain to give your clients these results are anabolic steroids. By slipping players a little something extra in their supplements, you could probably convince them that it's your special training program ("Now, we mud wrestle!") or your special ginkobiloba extract/eye of newt/creatine smoothies that are giving the boys their powerful new physiques.

This probably wouldn't be too plausible if the trainer was making the player shoot up twice a day, but if your steroid is in the form of a topical cream -- well, who knows what's in half the products we put on our skin? How is Gary Sheffield (or anyone else for that matter) to tell the difference between THG, Vics Vap-o-Rub, and Noxema?

Now, this doesn't completely absolve a player who might be slipped a steroid "mickey". There'd probably be a fair amount of what we lawyers call "willful blindness" involved. Long-term, the player, not to mention his physician, his coaches, and his teammates, would have to ignore dramatic physical changes, and side-effects such as acne, the development of breast tissue, behavioral changes, etc. that have been associated with steroid use. You'd think eventually someone would start asking questions ... unless they really didn't want to know the answers.

The sideline to this story -- one that might have an effect on both Sheffield's and Bonds's MVP hopes -- is the bizarre relationship between the two superstar sluggers. It's amazingly petty: as Sheff tells it, Bonds is such a control freak you can't take him to a basketball game or a boxing match without him trying to one-up you. Everything has to be his way, and everyone around him feels bossed around or abused. Sheffield, a not-that-much-younger player with lots of experience (and a World Series ring, which Barry lacks) chafed under Bonds' tightly regimented tutelage.

Now, take away the limos and the plane tickets, and plenty of people with older siblings can relate to Sheffield's experience. Until we start talking about personal chefs. Apparently, you can't ever leave Barry Bonds alone with your personal chef.

Nope. Can't relate to that. No chance.

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