Where do we stand with the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) case, which started 681 days ago with a raid on an obscure San Francisco lab that quickly became a household name? Here's a quick scorecard:
Victor Conte: Conte's plea with federal prosecutors on steroid distribution and money laundering means the government won't get what it wanted most: A trial that could have dragged the secrets of Barry Bonds and Marion Jones into the open. On the other hand, Conte avoids having to spend $50,000 a month in legal fees to defend himself, and can start down the TV talk show rehab route. Expect Conte to write his memoirs when he gets out and reinvent himself as a TV talking head.
The Feds: After two years of investigating Conte, U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan gets a headline conviction and a perp photo of the former jazz musician being led into federal prison. Considering that high profile steroid convictions are rare -- the last big case was prosecuted in 1992 -- Ryan gets credit for perseverance. But the government got bloodied with reports that lead IRS agent Jeff Novitzky launched the whole thing simply to get Bonds.
Barry Bonds: Here's the good news: Conte's deal lessens the pressure on co-defendants Jim Valente, BALCO's president, and Greg Anderson, the BALCO client who trained Bonds, to give up detailed information. If the big fish got four months in Club Fed, how much can Valente and Anderson be expected to get? Moreover, Anderson has been telling friends for months that he'd be willing to do time for his boyhood friend. Without any of their testimony, it's doubtful the feds can make a perjury case against Bonds, who reportedly told a grand jury that he might have received steroids but didn't know what they were. Bigger trouble might come from a woman who claims Bonds bought her a house with memorabilia money, and that he didn't pay taxes on that income.
Greg Anderson: This case reportedly started with Novitzky watching Bonds and Anderson work out together at the now-infamous Bay Area Fitness health club. Anderson has been telling friends for more than a year that he wants to go to jail and get it over with. He'll get his wish, though exactly how much time he'll do remains to be seen. He is expected to argue that he should get three months in prison and three months of house arrest. When he gets out, at least his private lesson rates will go up.
James Valente: Valente, Conte's longtime business partner, has always been the quiet man here and the one who Conte has said dealt most with baseball. If he gets probation, as expected, maybe he should be hired by Bud Selig.
Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery: Track's first couple must have Clinton-style legal bills these days. Jones is suing Conte for libel. Meanwhile, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is trying to use documents seized from the BALCO raid to ban Montgomery for life. Hearings on the case were held in San Francisco last month. Legal note: It's the first time that anti-doping authorities have tried to ban someone without having a positive drug test in evidence.
Remi Korchemny: The 72-year-old Ukrainian track coach added a little Eastern bloc mystery and flavor to the doping case. But the man who coached British BALCO client Dwaine Chambers (now banned for life) gets the sympathy vote. He was an old warhorse who couldn't learn any new tricks. Expect a plea with instant probation and public service ads.
Congress: There hasn't been an issue conducive to such sanctimony in the hearing room since Presidential impeachment. And at the end of the day, two bills are working their way through Congress with similar aims -- requiring that all pro sports ban the same drugs that are banned in Olympic competition, and toughening penalties so that a first offense nets a two-year suspension.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency: Obscure outfit becomes do-gooder's darling.
The Fans: They're flocking to ballparks in record-breaking numbers to see baseball games that have been strangely unaffected by Selig's steroid crackdown. According to the Orlando Sentinel, there have been 2.04 homers hit per game so far this year, vs. 2.17 HR at the same time last year. BALCO? What BALCO?
Shaun Assael is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.