By: Joe Strupp
San Francisco Chronicle investigative reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada are turning their award-winning coverage of the BALCO steroids scandal into a book, the scribes confirmed to E&P. The two plan to begin a leave of absence next month to write the manuscript, which is due Sept. 1.
The duo — whose groundbreaking scoops included revelations last December that baseball stars Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi admitted using steroids in secret grand jury testimony — inked a deal several months ago with Gotham Books, a Penguin imprint, for a manuscript that is expected to be published sometime next spring, Williams said.
“It will be a narrative non-fiction book about BALCO, kind of a ‘Barbarians at the Gate,'” said Brendan Cahill, the Gotham editor overseeing the project. “Barbarians at the Plate, if you will.”
The reporters have already drawn praise from journalists for uncovering the secret grand jury testimony, earning a George K. Polk Award, among others. But their work has also drawn complaints from federal investigators, who have sent the Chronicle several letters demanding the identity of sources.
“I rented an office in Berkeley and will start paying rent on it April 1, so it will be pretty darn soon,” Williams said. “I will be spending most of my time over there.”
The book comes after former Oakland A’s star Jose Canseco’s tell-all memoir, released last month, which named several alleged steroid users and prompted a congressional inquiry. In addition, a former Bonds girlfriend, Kimberly Bell, is planning to publish a book about her relationship with the home-run king, which is expected to include steroid revelations.
Williams and Fainaru-Wada’s account, however, is likely to include more reporting on the overall scandal and federal inquiry than Canseco’s or Bell’s.
Fainaru-Wada, a former San Francisco Giants beat writer, said the leave of absence will not take the reporters off the day-to-day reporting of the story completely. “There will be an agreement that if there are substantial stories for us to come off [the book] for, we will do it,” he said. “I don’t know that we will necessarily come off the book for a day story.”
He also stressed that any new revelations or scoops the would-be authors come across during book research will get first publication in the paper. “We are not going to hold that back for the book,” he said.
This is the first book for either writer, both of whom declined to reveal any advance payment they might have received.
Williams, a 22-year-San Francisco newspaper veteran, admitted that working on a book about a story that is still unfolding may require more updating, but said the majority of the tale should be decided by September.
“It has a beginning and a middle and just needs an end,” he said. “We should know by the end of the baseball season where this will go.” New information, he noted, can be inserted as needed before publication.