The first rule of the steroid fiasco is simple: Don't believe anyone, at least not completely.
Don't believe Bud Selig when he tells you he wants comprehensive, Big Brother testing. He only wants it because the issue has become the media equivalent of an explosion at a fireworks factory.
Don't believe Barry Bonds, who says he didn't know what he was taking. Don't believe Jason Giambi, at least not completely, because he says he didn't think the stuff worked all that well.
Don't believe Marion Jones' refutation of Victor Conte, because she's staring down the barrel of a perjury charge if Vic the Quick turns out to be telling the truth.
And please, don't believe the people who say steroids or growth hormone can't help you hit a baseball. Don't believe it when they say it doesn't have anything to do with hand-eye coordination. Whatever you believe, don't believe this one.
Can you seriously believe these guys would stick needles in their butt cheeks and stomachs if they didn't know the juice would help perform basic baseball functions? Would they take female fertility hormones if they didn't see a boost in performance? Would they look the way they do if it was all a scam?
One of Conte's goals cooks down to four words: Stop the aging process.
In a 1998 interview from something called Testosterone magazine, Conte outlines his mission to prove he can make a 40-year-old body perform like a 20-year-old body through chemical manipulation. He makes a few meek statements against HGH and steroids, but he also makes it clear that it's a matter of science: A human body begins to lose muscle mass after age 35; but by artificially reintroducing the depleted substances such as testosterone and HGH, the aging process can not only be slowed but reversed.
And how old was Barry Bonds when he began his relationship with Conte and BALCO? It was the offseason of 2000, and Bonds had turned 36 in July.
(Bonds, by the way, is a much better liar than Giambi. Bonds looked people square in the face and lied, even after his grand jury testimony. Giambi, meanwhile, looked like a mole staring straight into the sun when he lied.)
BALCO's concoctions stall aging and create an improvement in reaction times, speed, strength -- every aspect of athletic performance. That's what's missing from the discussion of what these drugs can do for a baseball player.
It isn't simply a matter of turning the occasional warning-track fly ball into a first-row home run. It's turning on a 95-mph fastball because you're experienced enough to know it's coming and chemically-enhanced enough to get the bat on it.
Think Willie Mays got clumsy in his old age? No, he got old in his old age.
It's nice to believe the pills and creams and drops and shots have nothing to do with hand-eye coordination or reaction times, but it's as delusional as the Yankees working themselves into a lather trying to void Giambi's contract.
By the way, in the insurance business, Giambi's habits are called a pre-existing condition.
One other thing:
Cal should boycott the Holiday Bowl. I confess to having spent two years wandering around the campus many years ago, so I'm not completely objective. But somebody has to do something, or the BCS stupidity will continue to run amok.
So just tell 'em thanks but no thanks. Stay home and prove a point. Nothing against the good folks at the Holiday Bowl, but tell them to get another one of those great teams from the Big 12. Or, better yet, the Big East. In fact, how about Syracuse? They're bowl eligible with six wins and beat Pittsburgh, which is one of the top eight teams according to the genius BCS bowl system.
This Week's List
Tim Keown is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.