The inbalance of justice

Updated: June 24, 2004, 5:30 PM ET
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

Tim Montgomery should have learned how to hit a curve ball. Barry Bonds should be happy that he never became a world-class sprinter. Therein lies the great lesson from today's reading from the Book of BALCO. Jurisdiction is everything.

Montgomery reportedly has admitted to a federal grand jury last year that he used one of Victor Conte's frothy "magic potions," which is interesting enough given that he and his lawyer are denying that he has ever taken anything hinky and, in fact, is being framed.

Which means he either did or did not tell the same grand jury that Barry Bonds also received a steroid from BALCO, thereby either corroborating (or, again, not) Conte's alleged claims to investigators that Bonds received steroid substances from BALCO.

Which also means that Montgomery is looking at the possibility of a lifetime ban from track and field, while Bonds is looking at batting fourth this weekend against Oakland.

You may have noticed over the past several weeks that the BALCO story has been steaming boldly through the track world, where the United States Anti-Doping Agency has been working time-and-a-half on cleaning up the track and field drug trade.

Which, coincidentally, has been exactly the time in which baseball has been off-searchlight. There is no USADA for baseball. There is, with all due respect to whatever they're calling the baseball drug plan (the Milton Bradley Company has already taken the "Get Out Of Jail Free" card), nothing at all.

In other words, track and field is all over this. Baseball continues to treat it like a smallpox-on-pumpernickel, hold the onions.

The USADA, which has been as profoundly circumspect as it has been dogged in its pursuit of the unclean, has become a huge, faceless, formless spectre, causing grown men and women's heads to cave in under the pressure of the investigation and/or the truths those investigations have allegedly revealed.

Baseball, though, has achieved its own facelessness and formlessness by choosing Option B -- not caring much. And this works to Bonds' advantage in major ways.

For one, people have figured out that through 2002, Major League Baseball and its players' union have made performance enhancing drugs a top priority, right after keeping the food room freezer well stocked with Hot Pockets and Neapolitan ice cream sandwiches. In other words, we're not talking about no harm, no foul, but the even more comprehensive system of no ref, no foul.

For two, the USADA isn't dealing with baseball. It's dealing with the International Anti-Doping Agency, which wants syringes so clean you can eat pastrami off the plunger. USADA may be operating on the QT, but its agenda is fairly clear --- to get the Americans back in compliance, however compliance is defined in these vague, parse-happy days in which we live.

Thus, it is USADA that wants Montgomery's head in a bowling bag, even though he seems to have cooperated fairly readily with the feds, no relation. And depending on your world view, USADA seems to be aiming wider, toward Marion Jones, Michelle Collins, Alvin Harrison and others.

It's called the blood-on-the-moon approach, and the USADA isn't stopping until a judge tells them to stop.

Baseball, though, remains profoundly unburdened by the scandal. The whispers-to-screams court of public innuendo has already engulfed Bonds, Armando Rios, Gary Sheffield and brothers Jason and Jeremy Giambi, but has died down as track implodes.

And the NFL, which has seven players allegedly named by Conte, is even more mute because, well, because it's the NFL, which takes on any and all suited comers. Subpoena? I gotcha subpoena right here, Jack.

This has months, even years, still to play out. Even Conte, the domino upon which all other tiles rest, is already denying that he has named any athletes to the feds. BALCO will be with us longer than Michelle Wie.

But for now, there is one thing we know. If your offspring have an athletic gift, buy him a helmet or hand her a bat. You're just asking for it with track spikes.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com

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