PHOENIX -- In the end, there is only one question that needs to be asked:
Do you believe Barry Bonds, or the book?
If you believe Bonds, then you believe the third-leading home run hitter in the history of Major League Baseball is the victim of an unrelenting federal and media conspiracy designed to frame him for the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
If you believe the excerpts of "Game of Shadows," then you believe that Bonds and his mind-boggling, bloated numbers of 1998-2004 (he missed most of last season with an injury) are a fraud.
I believe the book. I think Bonds is -- or was -- a human Walgreens, a grotesque and insulting example of better baseball through chemistry. And I think he should slither away, joining Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro in forced baseball exile.
Bonds is finished. He might play again, but there is only a chalk outline left around his integrity and home run totals. And the only way he gets into Cooperstown is if he spends the $14.50 for a Hall of Fame admission ticket.
Winstrol. Deca-Durabolin. Insulin. Testosterone decanoate. Human growth hormones. Norbolethone. Trenbolone. Clomid. These are the substances and steroids Bonds is alleged to have injected or ingested. They are the medicine cabinet of a cheater.
Clomid is prescribed to women for infertility. Trenbolone enhances the muscle tone of cattle. Deca-Durabolin is a medication used in the treatment of kidney failure-related anemia. And yet, write "Game of Shadows" co-authors Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, Bonds did so with regularity and without remorse.
Bonds always has been a drama king. He was insufferable in high school, insufferable at Arizona State, and insufferable now. But his statistics didn't come with a personality rating. Love him or loathe him, you simply couldn't argue with his talent. He arrived at the big leagues as a prodigy, a lithe, five-tool player. He will leave as a cautionary tale, an asterisk wearing a San Francisco Giants uniform.
How can you not read the work of the two San Francisco Chronicle writers and not at least wonder if Bonds knew about the working end of a syringe. Either you're naïve or a member of the Bonds family.
When asked Tuesday at the Giants' Scottsdale facility if he was aware of the contents of "Game of Shadows," Bonds told reporters, "Nope. I won't even look at it. For what? I won't even look at it. There's no need to."
Here's guessing the Feds will. So will the IRS. So will his ex-wife's divorce attorney. So will MLB commissioner Bud Selig, though he was conveniently in Milwaukee on Tuesday, despite Team USA making its World Baseball Classic debut here at Chase Field. An MLB spokesperson said Selig hadn't seen the book and had no comment regarding the book's allegations.
Then again, what can Selig do other than secretly root that Fainaru-Wada and Williams got it right? In so many ways MLB, the owners and the Players Association share part of the blame for creating this situation. For years they were helpless -- or clueless -- when it came to addressing the issue of performance-enhancing drugs.
Faced with a choice of remaining true to the game, or becoming what he once despised, Bonds allegedly chose home runs over ethics. But even as his numbers increased almost exponentially, as kayak-gridlock became commonplace at McCovey's Cove, as the countdown to baseball immortality became more pronounced, there was always an uneasiness about Bonds' accomplishments. They didn't seem, for the lack of a better word, natural.
Bonds has his defenders -- lot's of them, including Derrek Lee, the Chicago Cubs All-Star first baseman who is everything Bonds isn't: a player who handles himself with grace and dignity. Lee hadn't heard of the book excerpt until he was asked about it after Team USA's 2-0 victory against Mexico.
"What's the story?" he said. "I don't know the story."
It was explained: detailed allegations of performance-enhancing drug use by Bonds.
Lee dismissed the latest revelations. It wasn't a story, he said. Bonds has never been caught using steroids. Leave him alone.
"People have been alleging him forever," Lee said.
Lee believes Bonds. I don't, and never will. I don't believe in coincidences, or physical transformations so stark that you do a double-take. I don't believe the numbers of 2001.
The tragedy of it all is that Bonds didn't need the alleged chemical boost. His legacy was secure. His Hall of Fame plaque was a done deal. It didn't matter if we thought he was a jerk because his statistics were so overpowering. No longer.
In recent years, perception was reality when it came to Bonds and the subject of steroid use. But this latest excerpt, complete with his smarmy grand jury testimony, convinces me reality is reality when applied to Bonds.
Earlier Tuesday afternoon, about an hour or so before Team USA's game, Alex Rodriguez was asked about the death of Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, who died a day earlier from complications stemming from a major stroke.
"One of the saddest days in baseball for me," said A-Rod.
I felt the same way Tuesday. This time it was the death of a reputation.
Barry Bonds, rest in peace.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.