By Scoop Jackson
Page 2

Let's say everything we've read is truth.

Let's say everything in Sports Illustrated, everything Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams wrote that took over the sports world last week was truth. Let's say Barry Bonds did everything that was written. Let's say the story lived up to its name.

Where would that leave us?

It has been one week. One week since the bomb dropped, one week since every sports columnist in the country eulogized Bonds, one week since we were given only one day to mourn Kirby Puckett's death before The Truth became the most important sports story of 2006.

His face sniped all across the pages of newspapers, Web sites and HD screens: big, bald, black. Looking like an uncracked-out, lotioned-up Ashy Larry.

Barry Bonds: The Devil was the conclusion everyone jumped to, the conclusion to everything.

The conclusion that was only the beginning.

Finally, baseball's known public secret was exposed. Concealed evidence unsealed. Bonds was about to become the reason God put that little symbol above the No. 8 on everyone's keyboard.

But between the fonts and point size, experts and excerpts, something has been missed. Something bigger than Bonds' forearms and Victor Conte's $1.18 million bankroll in 2000.

Something before The Truth.

Every tree has roots. The roots are the lifeline of every tree. Attack or cut down a tree, the roots stay alive. They still grow. The roots are deeper than the tree.

This story has roots. And what we fail to understand is that the roots in this case are not Bonds, as we are led to believe. If we believe the story, then the truth isn't even Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. They're just trees.

The roots are Major League Baseball.

It's easier to take on a soldier than an army, easier a made man instead of the Mafia, the tree instead of the earth below. Going after MLB would be too much like battling something much larger than a sycamore. Roots, you see, are endless, and they feed off dirt. Just like with any successful business in this country, everything is hidden under the soil.

And if we take what was written as truth, Barry Bonds never would have taken any steroids, "the cream," "the clear," Deca or HGH had the commissioner and the president of the players' union stepped in when McGwire and Sosa started hitting all those home runs.

Bonds -- according to the story -- did what he did only because professional baseball allowed McGwire and Sosa to do something he wasn't doing. It allowed them to save baseball. It allowed them to accomplish feats Barry Bonds knew he couldn't do with just ZMA assistance.

And that's not jealousy, as it was labeled in the piece -- that's business. Just as MLB made a business decision to do nothing about the 1998 home run chase, Bonds made a business decision to do the opposite: something.

Both were wrong, but both were technically -- only under the laws of baseball -- legal. As quoted in the story, "Although it was illegal to use the drugs without a prescription, baseball had never banned steroids."

Which ultimately is baseball's fault, not Bonds'. And in a week after the long SI excerpt, not enough people consistently said that. Hal Bodley of USA Today came close by inking, "And Bonds shouldn't be the only target. The entire era needs to be examined."

And by only taking the story or the forthcoming book "Game of Shadows" (Gotham Books) at face value, what gets ignored? The truth that Major League Baseball is the root of this evil and that not just Bonds and BALCO need to be on trial. As Wesley Snipes famously said: "This is bigger than Nino Brown."

This is bigger than Barry Bonds.

Where are Woodward and Bernstein? Where's Tom Friedman? Hell, where's Jayson Blair or James Frey. They don't even have to make this up.

Somewhere, there's enough evidence inside Major League Baseball's offices and hard drives to get a senator like Tom Davis (R-Va.) to rethink statements like, "I think everyone knew Barry Bonds was taking it. There isn't any doubt," and redirect his focus on the bigger picture: "I think everyone knew Bud Selig and Donald Fehr were full of it. There wasn't any doubt about it."

But that would be too much like right, right? Too close to The Truth.

Bottom line: We got played. All of us: the writers, the fans, the players, the teams. We got played by the game of baseball. Straight Sting. Straight Mamet.

But we got played long before last week. Long before Greg Anderson ever met Bonds.

And although The Truth got told to us, it's not Bonds who played us -- it was the League. The professional side of baseball. And still we'll sit back and focus on the purity of the game inside one man when the people running the sport at the highest level are treating us -- the fans -- the same way the player inside the witch hunt has the media for the last 20 years.

And as much as I believe Bonds brought this on himself, last week should not have been about him. Last week should have been about the truth.

It's Tuesday, March 14, one week after the steroids hit the fan, one week since the villain in black hit the newsstands.

Now he's about to hit it again.The next phase. Jeff Pearlman's excerpt from "Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Antihero" (HarperCollins) has found its way onto page 52 of ESPN The Magazine, giving last week's DNR story new life.

If Pearlman's non-grand-jury testimony approach of inner-circle clubhouse teammates -- instead of scorned ex-lover information -- is the Truth II, then maybe it's just another week or two before the interest in Bonds' existence in baseball begins its very slow death.

And even with Pearlman having Ken Griffey Jr. as a "stand by and watch but say nothing" accessory to Bonds' crimes, once the book is done and published and read, what -- beyond just a mountain of information and evidence -- is different at the end of the day? What purpose have these two Truths had?

What's been solved? What in our lives has changed? What in baseball has changed?

Barry Bonds is still hitting home runs in spring training; scientists are still in labs staying one step ahead of baseball's drug testing policy; American umpires are still "cheating" to help the USA baseball team win games against Japan in the World Baseball Classic; Barry Bonds is still hitting home runs in spring training; Ken Caminiti is still the 1996 MVP; Jose Canseco and Pete Rose still have big sellers on the shelves; there still is no "serious" Olympic-style testing procedure or punishment for illegal performance-enhancing drugs in baseball ...

... and Barry Bonds is still hitting home runs in spring training.

The evidence is weightless, the hype pointless. The story of the effect these two stories (or books) is going to have on baseball is a nonstory.

The asterisk, congressional hearings with real value, the bans from baseball, the erasing of records and home runs. None of that has happened -- and none of it is going to happen. Major League Baseball will not allow it. It has to protect its roots.

Let's hope something will be learned from this.

First, that as long as the sports we cherish have the word "professional" verbally placed somewhere in front of their name or "League" or "Association" as a part of their acronym, then they always will be a business first, a sport second.

Second, that we have to stop looking for ethics in home runs and no-hitters, strikeouts and RBI. They say there is no crying in baseball. Well, apparently there is no code of ethics, either.

And finally, never allow a single story pulled from a single book that singles out a single player -- even one who is guilty -- to blind a nation to what's really going on.

The truth is still untold, and we're living in a world of blind, rootness lumberjacks.

Scoop Jackson is a national columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. He has weekly segments on "Cold Pizza" and "Classic Now" and is a regular forum guest on "Rome Is Burning." He resides in Chicago. You can e-mail Scoop here. Sound off to Page 2 here.