Silent Anderson remains Bonds' golden ticket

There's a reason, a depressingly good one, why Barry Bonds can talk smugly of dipping his just-surgically repaired left elbow into the free-agent waters this offseason. It's the same reason he can continue his tainted march toward Henry Aaron's legitimate all-time home run record. And it's the reason he might still be wearing a San Francisco Giants uniform when the team reports to Scottsdale next spring.

The reason's name is Greg Anderson.

Anderson is Bonds' longtime friend, former personal trainer, convicted drug distributor and money launderer and, according to federal prosecutors, the man whose testimony could probably wipe that smug look off No. 25's face.

Except that Anderson isn't talking. Put him in front of a grand jury and he speaks less than Teller. Look up the word "monosyllabic," and there's Anderson's prison mug shot.

The guy knows where the steroid skeletons are buried. He knows because he did a lot of the shoveling. Still is -- this time, by his silence.

Anderson was released from prison Thursday when a lower court declined to reissue a new contempt order. That doesn't mean Anderson is off the hook. It just means his wardrobe, for the time being, doesn't consist of a jumpsuit. He's out on bail while his lawyer appeals an earlier contempt ruling.

The law is the law -- or a "legal snafu," as U.S. District Judge William Alsup called it during Thursday's ruling -- but that doesn't mean it always makes sense. If it did, the two San Francisco Chronicle reporters who cracked open this baseball steroid mess wouldn't be facing jail time themselves. But for now, Anderson is out of jail, Bonds is musing about his future and Major League Baseball is busy checking the TV ratings for the divisional playoff games.

The problem is, sooner or later someone has to do something about Bonds. The Feds are hoping that someone will be Anderson. So is MLB commissioner Bud Selig. If Anderson chirps, then Selig can eventually (and happily) use a whisk broom to sweep away Bonds from Aaron's 755 home runs, as well as the Hall of Fame.

But Anderson's defiance seems permanent. After all, the guy has already spent more than a combined 50 days behind bars for refusing to testify about Bonds. Is another 50 days going to matter? Another 150 after that?

Anderson isn't going to rat on a friend. Good for Bonds. Bad for baseball, the Feds and Aaron.

Never mind that Anderson's silence is as much an indictment of Bonds' past as would be his testimony. If no wrongdoing took place, why not just say so?

Why? Because a 2003 tape-recorded conversation features Anderson talking about how he supplied Bonds with undetectable performance-enhancing substances. Anderson's lawyer has argued that the conversation was taped without his client's knowledge and thus was obtained illegally and can't be used as the basis for questioning or prosecution.

In other words, he wants a judge to make it go away. If the tape disappears, then maybe the Feds do, too.

All of a sudden, prosecutors are looking at the possibility of no Anderson grand jury testimony, as well as no smoking tape recordings. To move forward without those two key components might be the equivalent of trying to eat soup with your pinkies.

There is another option: MLB's vaunted independent investigation of steroids, which is being overseen by former U.S. Senate majority leader George Mitchell. The only way I'd have less faith in the MLB-sponsored inquiry is if O.J. Simpson were the lead investigator.

Six months have passed since Mitchell was appointed by Selig. All those holding their breath can exhale now. It's going to be a while, if ever, before Mitchell is able to pry open baseball's cans of performance-enhanced worms.

In the end, we'll be left with a mute Anderson, a mocking Bonds and the audacious flaxseed oil/arthritis balm defense. The scary thing is, it might be enough to spare Bonds from prosecution.

Earlier this week, Bonds responded to what he called "some nasty things" said by Giants owner Peter Magowan. Magowan had the nerve to suggest Bonds might not end his career in San Francisco, and if he did, it wouldn't be for the $18 million the Giants paid him in 2006.

"Well, that's OK," Bonds told MLB.com. "I don't have to play baseball anymore, brother. I'll be glad to stay home. I'm free. I feel very free."

Oh, brother. The martyr -- who missed 31 games in 2006, had only 367 at-bats, couldn't field his position, hit 29 points below his career average and produced his lowest home run total (in 112 games or more) since 1991 and his lowest RBI total (in 112 games or more) since 1989 -- is at it again. Only Bonds can act persecuted and still find time to thank the licensees who hawk his line of collectibles.

Thanks to Anderson's self-imposed gag order, Bonds might still squirm out of the Feds' and Mitchell's grasp. And if he does play next season, he'll likely hit the 22 home runs needed to surpass Aaron's career total. Not that it matters.

Bonds will have the record, but he'll never have Aaron's integrity or legitimacy. He'll be free, very free. But he'll forever be a fraud.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.