Late on the morning of Dec. 4, 2003, Barry Bonds arrived at the Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco and was ushered into the courthouse by the lead investigator in the BALCO steroids case. Bonds was flanked by his lawyer and a bodyguard while cameramen and photographers scrambled to snag a shot of the San Francisco Giants slugger on a day that had been anticipated for months.
Bonds' appearance before the BALCO grand jury represented the climactic moment of a fall that had witnessed some of the world's greatest athletes marching through the doors at 450 Golden Gate Ave., riding an elevator up to the 17th floor and then disappearing into a grand jury room, where, in many cases, they described their explicit use of an array of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
But Bonds, just as he did every time he stepped into the batter's box, went into the grand jury room with a game plan, one that had been foreshadowed by his lawyer, Michael Rains, in the buildup to his client's appearance. Six weeks before the testimony, Rains was asked by the New York Daily News what Bonds would say when asked if he had taken steroids. Rains said his client would respond, "Well, I didn't know it at the time."
Through three hours of sometimes meandering testimony, Bonds stuck with that message, providing responses such as, "Not that I know of," or "I don't recall," or dismissing his steroid use by saying that his trainer, Greg Anderson, "rubbed some cream on my arm" but never told Bonds it was illegal.
The prosecutors weren't buying, repeatedly pressing Bonds for answers, their voices tinged with sarcasm as they asked how he could have taken drugs without knowing what they were.
At the end of the three hours, prosecutors had pages worth of testimony filled with Bonds' denials. They had showed him Anderson's doping calendars coded with the initials "BB," and informed him about a drug test he had taken in November 2000 that showed he tested positive for testosterone. Bonds never wavered. He said he never used steroids. He never took human growth hormone. Anderson never provided him with performance-enhancers and Bonds was never injected with steroids.
Like the other athletes who had testified before him, Bonds had signed a document that said he would give truthful testimony, no matter how damaging, and in return he would be immune from prosecution. After all, he wasn't the target in the investigation, he was only a witness against the men accused of steroid trafficking.
Had Bonds simply admitted to using "the cream" and "the clear," as others like the Yankees' Jason Giambi did, he might have suffered only embarrassment when details of his testimony appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. But from the first of his denials, government prosecutors were convinced Bonds was lying, and a federal grand jury agreed, returning an indictment Thursday on four counts of perjury and one of obstructing justice.
Until news of the indictment spread, public speculation about the case was limited to the dribs and drabs of information that had emerged. Rains and BALCO founder Victor Conte insisted the U.S. Attorney had no case or he would have brought charges much earlier. With Anderson in prison for refusing to testify against his friend, conventional wisdom held that he must be crucial to the government's case; if the trainer could finish the length of the grand jury's term without spilling, Bonds was safe.