In the semifinal analysis (which is to say that nothing is ever final with the BALCO investigation), Barry Bonds' admission that he used performance-enhancing flaxseed oil doesn't advance the issue of what we should think about him very much at all.
I mean, you can either believe his version of events as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, in which case you must think him incredibly naïve and even gullible, or you can think his I-don't-know-what-this-stuff-was-I-just-took-it explanation is just for deniability.
Which is where we were with this before he testified to the BALCO grand jury last December. You believe, or you don't. You still want the homers, or you want the public shame.
What Bonds actually admitted was that he used something that could certainly be "the clear" and "the cream," although he said he didn't know what it was, was never told by his personal trainer what it was, and couldn't explain all the paperwork that linked him with other pharmaceuticals, including a female fertility drug, a drug to combat narcolepsy, and insulin.
In other words, there's a lot of deniability involved here.
And therefore, a lot of credulity involved here.
Bonds seems to be essentially covered legally, in that the only legal jeopardy that attaches to him here is the possibility of prosecution only if it is proved he lied to the grand jury. If he can convince whoever needs to be convinced that he didn't know what his personal trainer, Greg Anderson, was supplying him, then he didn't lie, and his grand jury immunity stands.
And proving what someone knew or didn't know without some form of corroboration is no day at the chemist's, let me tell you.
As for the public, well, this still looks like red-state, blue-state stuff. Those who want to assume the worst already have, and those who want to buy his story have already mailed in their deposits.
The difference is, though, that those who didn't have a firm opinion either way are less likely to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Consider if nothing else the fact that Jason Giambi was reported by the Chronicle on Thursday to have copped to knowingly using steroids after consultation with Anderson, and testifying to it in excruciating detail. It takes a heap of I-believe-you-buddy to assume that Anderson would share so willingly with Giambi yet hold his tongue with Bonds.
But never mind that. Consider the fact that Bonds, by his own words not by nature a trusting sort, would accept Anderson's word with a simple, "Whatever." He apparently took what he was told, whether it be flaxseed oil, undetectable steroids, or Uruguayan wombat extract.
That, too, requires an unusual devotion to the notion of "true until proven false."
The funny thing, though, is that Bonds seems to have moved beyond the notion of selling the story. He has denied taking steroids, he has denied knowingly taking steroids, and he has denied the opportunity to expand much beyond that. His grand jury testimony might have been most instructive when he spoke about how he didn't trust the Giants or their medical staff and especially not Major League Baseball's drug testing policy (such as it is).
He knows he lives in a world that distrusts nuance or uncertainty, a world that demands an opinion on guilt and innocence before the jury's been picked. Without that, Court TV would be showing "The Little Rascals" marathons.
So he is standing on his story. He took something someone said was flaxseed oil, and you can't prove he didn't think that.
Greg Anderson could, of course, were he so inclined, but there is so far no evidence that he is either capable or willing to do so. He might very well back Bonds' version of events without hesitation, which leaves us right where we were before the grand jury met.
And it might even be true, although it's harder to get an even-money bet that way.
In any event, we're still where we were, give or take a step. More mounds of quasi-circumstantial evidence to pile atop the mounds of crypto-circumstantial evidence that already existed.
You either believe, or you don't. You want the homers, or you want the shame. To that extent, nothing much has changed at all.
Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com