The hypothetical is enticing enough: What if, and I'm just yanking a name off the subpoena list here, Barry Bonds suddenly jumped up in federal court and blurted, "I'm a syringe-totin' freakazoid!"? Those baseball home-run records would suddenly come under white-hot suspicion and the immediate threat of revocation, wouldn't they?
Well, in a word, no. In two words, grow up.
And in a thought: Most people really don't want to believe, nor does Major League Baseball, nor do sports at large, nor does entertainment in global.
Nothing to see here, folks! Just the same super-sized sporting achievement we've grown accustomed to having piped into our homes on an hourly basis.
Say this for sports: It delivers.
None of the above is to disparage Bonds, who stands accused of absolutely nothing. The same is true of Jason Giambi, who also has been scheduled to testify before a federal grand jury investigating Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative, a San Francisco-area nutritional supplement company currently being scrutinized on the twin fronts of possible tax evasion and the distribution of the designer steroid THG.
In both players' cases, the feds seem interested primarily in what was paid to BALCO founder Victor Conte over the years -- how much and when. Both Bonds and Giambi, along with several other high-profile athletes, have acknowledged using BALCO's services in the past for perfectly legal things like blood work, consultation on vitamins and supplements and the like.
But as the spectre of the BALCO case looms over so many athletic enterprises, with special disgraceful emphasis on track and field and its merry cadre of human lab experiments, we still turn our attention fleetingly to the erstwhile national pastime, if only to ask: What Would Baseball Do?
And the answers are: Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.
McGwire was the first man on the moon. He broke the Ruth-Maris single-season record during a 1998 campaign in which, he noted openly and without hesitation, he was using the testosterone-producing prohormone Androstenedione, which McGwire believed improved his recovery after workouts and reduced his likelihood for injury. Both claims were later refuted by several medical studies, whereupon Andro's marketers tried to reposition their product as an anti-aging elixir.
Andro already had been banned by several sports leagues and the International Olympic Committee for its potentially hazardous long-term effects, but it was legal in baseball. McGwire certainly felt no compulsion to stop. He didn't quit using the substance, in fact, until he said he had realized he was influencing young fans to possibly do the same.
Fallout? Zero percent in the hero department. Baseball couldn't run away from the controversy fast enough. It was a feel-good summer, '98, and McGwire and Sosa were bringing to it a level of home-run bottle-rocketry seemingly unseen in decades. No one was jumping off that bandwagon.
McGwire could technically claim legality within baseball's rules, of course. No such wiggle-room existed for Sosa this season, when his corked bat exploded and he was forced to admit he'd taken an illegal stick up to the plate. Sosa proffered the patently ludicrous explanation that he had accidentally grabbed his batting-practice bat, a corked-up model he intended only to be used to thrill the fans during pre-game warmups. Translation: It's your fault for wanting Sosa to hit 500-foot bombs while you're finding your seats.
Result: People ate it in droves, couldn't wait to "get past this," and went happily cruising down the Sammy Worship Highway. After all, he only broke the rules a little, and he hits really big home runs.
The mentality here is the consistent thing, not the specifics of the case. Even if a superstar acknowledged having had a great summer thanks to THG, he wouldn't be in violation of a rule, technically -- since the drug was only recently discovered, it certainly hasn't been formally banned. And if not legally out of bounds, then what's the big to-do?
Give us our pyrotechnics. We'll worry over details later.
You'll be hearing a lot over the next few weeks on the BALCO case and its THG component. Pay particular attention to the mewling of those who would have you believe a huge corner has been turned with regard to cheating in order to boost athletic performance.
Pay attention, and then feel free to dismiss such twaddle with prejudice. There's a darker truth here, and it's the one about so many people in sports -- fans, profiteers and perhaps too many of the athletes themselves -- being willing to ignore almost anything in the name of a heightened "experience."
That truth may lack the sparkling-clean appeal of a star's megawatt smile, but it's got bite. And until that particular paradigm begins to shift, you don't have to worry about any of the other hypotheticals.
Mark Kreidler is a columnist with the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com