By Erin Sherbert
By Howard Cole
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
Prison changes a man. Makes him hard and cold, "like the frozen earth itself," as Hemingway once observed. Only returning to the outside has allowed Marlon Leftwich to thaw his spirit, to warm his soul.
He was paroled in August after serving a six-month sentence, ample time for seasons to change and hope to decay. The San Francisco native landed behind bars for a crime spree vast in geography but narrow in its choice of targets: Over a six-week period, federal court records state, Leftwich crisscrossed California, Arizona, and Nevada to rob 44 convenience stores.
He didn't get rich along the way, stealing a paltry $755 in cash — and more than twice that amount in junk food. Before politely asking each store clerk to open the register, Leftwich would stuff his brown leather trench coat full of high-fat munchies, ranging from fried pork rinds to Little Debbie Devil Squares. (Perhaps predictably, his fondness for beef sticks led federal agents to dub him the Slim Jim Bandit.) His "weapon" was an empty Bed Head shampoo bottle that, when pointed from inside his coat pocket, passed for a handgun.
Leftwich's three-state snack binge ended on a brisk February morning in Daly City. The feds, tipped off by a confidential informant, set up a sting at a 7-Eleven near an exit ramp off Interstate 280. A young FBI agent posed as the store's clerk, chosen for the role, in part, because of his acne-mottled complexion. A security camera recorded Leftwich, his thin black hair cinched in a ponytail, as he drifted through the aisles, pocketing a dozen bags of CornNuts and Combos, five boxes of Pop-Tarts, and eight Hostess fruit pies — four apple, four cherry. Moments later, as he approached the checkout line, the FBI agent vaulted over the front counter and slammed him to the floor.
"He took me down hard," Leftwich says, wincing at the memory, cradling his tattoo-streaked forearms against his chest. "The fucking pie filling went everywhere."
He recounts his arrest while sitting in a cramped room in a Tenderloin SRO that he asked SF Weekly not to identify, fearing unwanted attention. A stack of copies of the Examiner doubles as his chair. He sleeps on a wooden pallet swaddled in bubble wrap; when he rolls over at night, "it sounds like the Fourth of July." On a rusty hook inside the door hangs his ruined trench coat, dark fruit-pie splotches visible in the wan light cast by the room's lone ceiling bulb.
The 43-year-old Leftwich moved here after his release from prison to piece together the shards of his life. He found a job in pest control, and though to him it marks a demotion from his stylist days at Supercuts, he earns enough to afford basic cable. (Affording a television has proven more difficult.) Thanks to weekly hypnosis sessions with a nutritional psychologist, he has tamed his junk-food addiction, shedding 24 pounds from his 6-foot frame. To symbolize his new start, he shaved his head. As much as anyone, he resembles a bald Malcolm Young, the spindly rhythm guitarist for the hard-rock band AC/DC.
But for all the progress made toward retrieving his self-respect, Leftwich, his face pale and gaunt, wears the gaze of the haunted. Flitting back and forth, his narrow-set, sea-blue eyes betray his anxiety, as does his habit of checking the door's peephole every few minutes. He needs to talk. He needs to set down a burden too heavy for one man to bear.
For transporting stolen goods across state lines, Leftwich wound up assigned to the federal penitentiary in Taft, 40 miles southwest of Bakersfield. With no beds available until mid-March, however, he spent the first week of his sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin. When he met his cellmate — or "cellie," in prison parlance — Leftwich thought he recognized him. His black hair styled in a mohawk with dreadlocks, the inmate, stout and thickly muscled, spoke in a voice oddly squeaky for someone so buff. He introduced himself as Greg.
As it happened, the next day, while watching ESPN on the only TV in the prison commons area, Leftwich learned why his cellie looked vaguely familiar. The cable sports network aired a spring-training update on the BALCO case, the federal steroids investigation that has embroiled Giants slugger Barry Bonds since 2003. Across the screen flashed the images and names of some of the scandal's key players, including BALCO founder Victor Conte, Bonds' former mistress Kimberly Bell, and his onetime personal trainer — Greg Anderson.
"I almost had a Depends moment," Leftwich says. "I'm thinking, 'My cellie is the guy who juiced maybe the greatest player of all time.'"
Aside from the 43-year-old Bonds, Anderson is arguably the person most responsible for this year's crowning of a new home run king in Major League Baseball. In late 2005 Anderson served three months for steroids distribution and money laundering in connection with the BALCO probe. But it's his unwillingness to testify in front of the latest grand jury convened in the case that has kept Anderson, 41, in federal custody since August 2006. Held in contempt of court, he shows no signs of cracking before the grand jury's term expires in January, stoking intense speculation about what he knows and whether Bonds bought his silence.
Yet contrary to Anderson's public reticence, Leftwich claims during their time as cellmates the chemically enhanced trainer shared one shocking anecdote after another about Bonds and BALCO. Among the revelations, according to Leftwich:
• Desperate to combat the testicular shrinkage that can occur with steroids use, Bonds injected human growth hormone directly into his genitals during the 2002 playoffs — with disastrous results for both him and the Giants.
• In early 2003, owing to the performance-enhancing drugs coursing through his body, Bonds suddenly began lactating, forcing doctors to excise his mammary glands.
• Wary of taking steroids since the BALCO flap broke, Bonds, intent on maintaining his edge, now supplements his diet with "Barry's brew," a homemade high-energy drink made of elk semen that has yielded its own troubling side effects.
As the 2007 regular season — and Bonds' time with the Giants — draws to a close this week, the sordid details threaten to further tarnish Bonds' legacy. Nonetheless, in Leftwich's view, exposing the secrets amounts to a public service for a city and team held hostage too long by the mercurial godson of Willie Mays. "Game of Shadows just scraped the surface," he says, referring to last year's book on Bonds and BALCO written by two Chronicle reporters. "It's time to tell the rest of the story."
The defiant gym rat who won't rat out his superstar friend. The obtuse loyalist who puts his wife and son second to a seven-time MVP. The cunning opportunist who has sacrificed his freedom to squeeze a big payday from a notoriously cheap narcissist.
Descriptions of Greg Anderson vary widely, much like the theories about his motives for refusing to discuss Barry Bonds before the BALCO grand jury. The conjectures persist because he spurns the media with the same mulish resolve with which he defies the court. He remains an enigma — an enigma with a soul patch.
Given his past obstinance, SF Weekly dispensed with contacting Anderson or his attorneys, who without fail inform reporters seeking interviews that their client will never talk about Bonds. In fact, until Marlon Leftwich emerged, the sharpest insight into Anderson's psyche came from another well-known grand-jury resister, video blogger Josh Wolf, who served time in the same prison. In a July interview with the Associated Press, Wolf said of Anderson, "He was always eating eggs."
Leftwich confirms news accounts that the fitness-obsessed Anderson requested kitchen duty so that he could exert control over his diet while locked up. "Yeah, that's true, Greg was always eating eggs," Leftwich says. "His egg-white omelets? They were the only things that helped me forget where I was."
The dust-brown buildings that make up the Dublin prison complex squat behind metal fencing garnished with coiled razor wire. The main wing of the minimum-security facility houses 1,200 female inmates. A smaller adjacent building holds 100 male inmates awaiting trial or transfer to another prison, or who have been found in contempt of court. Two men occupy each cell, furnished with a bunk bed, sink, and toilet. They battle tedium more than fear, unless the plumbing backs up.
On the March afternoon he saw the BALCO update on TV, Leftwich, his curiosity piqued, returned to his cell and decided to ask Anderson about the scandal. He figured that the pharmaceutically enlarged "weight guru," as Anderson had advertised himself to clients, would play the clam. Instead, Leftwich says, "he gushed like a lanced boil."
As chronicled in Game of Shadows, Bonds, first through Anderson and later through Conte's Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, obtained performance-enhancing drugs that enabled him to rewrite baseball's home run records. Leftwich relates that Anderson refers to the book's authors, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, as "the prick twins." But rather than dismissing their assertions, Leftwich says, the trainer freely offered tales from his years of shooting steroids into the buttocks of a future Hall of Famer.
Long after falling out of touch, Anderson and Bonds, friends since their youth baseball days in San Carlos, reconnected in late 1998. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa had chased the single-season home-run mark that year, and Bonds, jealous of the adulation they received, wanted to reclaim baseball's spotlight. Fainaru-Wada and Williams recounted how he hooked up with Anderson, a personal trainer at a Burlingame gym, who with free weights and copious steroids had morphed into a bulging slab of muscle.
Under his friend's tutelage, the authors reported, Bonds pumped iron and steroids alike with ferocious zeal. He endured numerous physical changes symptomatic of doping, Game of Shadows asserted, including sexual dysfunction, hair loss, and skin irritation. Yet unlike the book's somber treatment of such topics, Leftwich claims Anderson fondly reminisced about using an emery board to sand down his prized client's back acne. Leftwich recalls Anderson saying, "One time I told Barry I was gonna sell a snuff tin of his skin flakes on eBay. He got the biggest fucking grin on his face and said, 'Be sure I get my cut of the profits.'"
But his smile would go south in 2001 during spring training. Rapid skull growth, another indicator of heavy steroids use, had placed undue strain on the slugger's neck, resulting in hairline fractures in three upper vertebrae. According to Leftwich, Anderson disclosed that, as a remedy, doctors implanted a small titanium brace at the base of Bonds' skull to keep his abnormally large head upright. The procedure was an unqualified success: He hit 73 home runs that season, breaking McGwire's record by three.
Doping calendars seized from Anderson's home by federal authorities in 2003 showed that he closely tracked Bonds' drug-taking cycles. There was, however, little doubt about who dictated the schedule, as Game of Shadows laid bare. "If [Anderson] told Bonds he didn't need a cycle," Fainaru-Wada and Williams wrote, "Bonds would just tell him, 'Fuck off, I'll do it myself.'"
His hubris nearly cost the 2002 National League batting champ the use of his little Louisville Slugger — and may have prevented the Giants from winning the World Series that year against the Anaheim Angels (now known as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim).
Leftwich attributes to Anderson a story about Bonds, angry over steroids causing his testicles to shrivel, taking matters into his own hands. Prior to a rendezvous with his then-mistress, Kimberly Bell, after Game Five of the Series, he shot a full dose of human growth hormone into his scrotum. Within the hour, as her lover's penis swelled to the width of a Coke can, Bell had to drive a moaning, half-conscious Bonds to an emergency room. Doctors gingerly drained the fluid and applied dry ice to his groin, narrowly averting a catastrophic eruption of his organ. The next night, unable to bend properly due to the soreness between his legs, Bonds misplayed a ball late in Game Six, helping the Angels surge from behind to win. Anaheim would take the series the following night.
As Leftwich remembers it, Anderson said, "I tried to warn Barry not to shoot HGH into his junk, same way I warned him not to shoot 'the Clear' into his pecs."
Anderson obtained the Clear and the Cream, two undetectable steroids that left users feeling superhuman, through BALCO's Conte, whose office sat around the corner from the trainer's gym. According to Leftwich, Anderson recalled that Bonds, bitter about his fielding miscue in the World Series, vowed to enter the 2003 season bigger and better than ever. His efforts went horribly awry.
Every day for a week before spring training, as Anderson watched in hushed dismay, Bonds jammed two syringes loaded with the Clear into his pectorals. Soon after, he started producing breast milk.
Rumors that the All-Star leftfielder was lactating spiked after an exhibition game that March. In Leftwich's telling, Anderson described how a Giants locker room attendant on laundry detail noticed two coaster-sized white stains inside Bonds' No. 25 jersey. "Is Barry preggers?" the young man quipped, holding up the jersey as players cackled. He would not crack wise again while on the club's payroll. Bonds, stepping from the showers with a towel covering his painfully tender nipples, overheard the joke. He demanded that Giants owner Peter Magowan, fresh off a colonic irrigation and visiting the locker room, fire the attendant on the spot. Magowan obliged, then fired three more just to make Bonds laugh.
Days later, with the team ascribing Bonds' absence from the clubhouse to general fatigue, doctors removed his distended mammary glands in a seven-hour operation. (Displaying sound judgment, Anderson didn't joke to his client about selling the glands on eBay.) Lingering soreness from the surgery hampered Bonds early in the season, with his batting average hovering at an anemic .270 through May. Leftwich says Anderson explained the problem this way: "Dude, it's not easy to turn on a fastball when it feels like wild dogs are eating your flesh knobs."
SF Weekly, bypassing Bonds' anticipated denials, instead went straight to fans who still believe the Bay Area icon can do no wrong. Giants season-ticket holder Trent Bolone, when told of the latest revelations, reacted with a shrug. "Here's a guy busting his tail even when he's got a bloated penis and aching breasts," Bolone said. "You can call him a drug cheat. I call him a legend."
Marlon Leftwich came to regard Greg Anderson as something of a kindred spirit during their short stint as cellies. Both had landed in prison. Each man had an unhealthy obsession — junk food for Leftwich, anabolic steroids for Anderson. And like the artificially inflated fitness trainer whose playing days ended at a no-name college in Kansas, Leftwich had seen his baseball dream fall well short of the pros.
Leftwich's Little League team played its games at Balboa Park. Jon Swift, his coach and a Marine veteran known for his bluntness, has vivid memories of the young Marlon. "He was a strange kid," Swift says. "He absolutely would not take the field unless he could keep a bag of chips in his mitt. So we stuck him out in right field and prayed nobody would hit it to him." The strategy worked until the fateful, inevitable day that a pop-up floated toward the boy, triggering a Bad News Bears sequence.
"He wasn't paying attention," the coach says. "He was looking down at his glove, trying to get the last fucking Frito out of the bag." In the next instant, the ball beaned his head with a dull thump, briefly knocking him out as the batter circled the bases. Leftwich recovered from the physical trauma, but never again stepped onto the diamond.
As he listened to Anderson hold forth on Barry Bonds and BALCO over the course of a week, Leftwich gradually realized that the weight guru was coping with his own baseball-related withdrawal: He could no longer jam a needle into the posterior of the player that some consider the best ever.
"He didn't act sorry for himself and he didn't brag," Leftwich says. "But there were times he'd talk in his sleep, and one night I heard him saying, 'Don't you get it? I've touched the ass of greatness!' That's how I knew he was hurting."
Hours after raiding BALCO's offices in September 2003, federal agents searched Anderson's Burlingame condo. Led by Jeff Novitzky, the IRS agent who headed the probe, they found detailed doping calendars that the trainer kept for Bonds, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, and lesser-known players to whom he supplied steroids, Game of Shadows revealed. Court records show the feds also discovered $60,000 in cash and a hoard of growth hormone, testosterone, and other performance-enhancing drugs. (In the sort of ironic twist one might expect in a work of fiction, Anderson stashed some of the vials in his refrigerator alongside dozens of hormone-free eggs — 61 of them, to be exact.)
In late 2005, Anderson pleaded guilty to distributing steroids and money laundering, receiving a three-month prison term. Yet that represents less than one-fifth of the time he has spent locked up because of the BALCO case. For refusing to answer questions before a pair of grand juries, he has logged another 13 months behind bars. In August 2006, in finding Anderson in contempt of court, U.S. District Judge William Alsup said to the trainer's attorneys, "Sometimes sitting in the cooler for a long time may have a therapeutic effect and may change his mind."
In truth, apart from providing Anderson a chance to think up puerile nicknames for his antagonists — Jeff Noshitsky, Judge Alshole — jail has fortified his stubbornness. Leftwich recalls how the synthetically augmented trainer laughed when asked if he would ever consider testifying. "He pretended to pick up a phone and said, 'Hello, Judge Alshole? I got your therapeutic effect — it's in my pants!'"
Leftwich smiles at the memory. "To be honest, there's probably only one way he'd ever testify, and that's if the crapper backs up. For a month."
Anderson traded his spiky flattop for a mohawk with dreads earlier this year. One of his lawyers explained the rationale behind the change to ESPN.com: "What else can you control, other than your haircut, when you are in a shithole?"
But to a great degree, Anderson has controlled the BALCO probe with his public silence, slowing — and perhaps scuttling — the attempts of federal prosecutors to hand down more indictments, with Bonds ostensibly their biggest quarry. Leftwich describes his ex-cellie as motivated by disdain for the feds and devotion to Bonds. "He's not really worried about his own situation," Leftwich says. "The concern is for Barry. My sense is that Greg feels a deep, strictly platonic man-love for him."
In particular, the trainer, who stays in shape by performing precisely 714 sit-ups and push-ups a day, frets about Bonds' body adapting to its steroids-free condition. "He talked about muscles being like any other kind of meat — they gotta stay marinated," Leftwich says. "You take 'em out of the juice, sooner or later, they're gonna dry out."
According to Leftwich, not long after the BALCO case exploded, Anderson, fearing that his client would need to quit doping, whipped up the first batch of what Bonds would label "Barry's brew." The viscous, foul-smelling protein shake relies on elk semen for its nutritional kick, and with his friend in jail, Bonds has had to assume the task of picking up the special ingredient. So once or twice a month, to ensure he receives the freshest product possible, Bonds drives the 100-plus miles north to the Clearlake elk ranch of Sammy Clemens.
"Tell you what, he's not afraid to help with collecting the stuff himself," Clemens says. "That marvelous hand-eye coordination isn't limited to hitting a baseball."
Bonds' teammates voice less enthusiasm for his homemade concoction, complaining that he's perpetually rutting — aggressively rubbing his bald pate against them and bugling to establish dominance. "It makes you wish he was still taking cattle 'roids," says a player who requested anonymity. "Ever notice how not too many guys crowd around him in the dugout after he hits one out? That's why. Well, that and he's an asshole."
One might expect Anderson to second that opinion, considering the excess of verbal abuse and lack of money he got from Bonds, as Game of Shadows documented. As with the rest of his retinue, Bonds treated Anderson like chattel, paying him only now and then. When the multimillionaire star testified before the BALCO grand jury in December 2003, a juror inquired why he failed to share a bit more of his wealth with the trainer.
"Man, you have no idea how much elk splooge costs," Bonds retorted.
"Excuse me?" the juror asked.
"Did I fucking stutter?" Bonds snapped, invoking one of his favorite put-downs. "I don't have time for this shit. Magowan! You owe me another stadium, bitch."
But the weight guru betrays no resentment toward his famed friend and former client. Maybe he feels at peace with his ill-fated choices. Or maybe he's due a fat wad of cash from Bonds for staying mum. Either way, Leftwich maintains, Greg Anderson refuses to scorn a man already scorned by so many. "All he says is, 'I've been compensated. Barry hit No. 756.'"
Leftwich pauses. "Personally, I think that's bullshit."
Nic Foit and Ira Tes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org