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Wednesday, March 9, 2005
Updated: March 16, 11:43 AM ET
A what-if that begs the question

By Ray Ratto
Special to ESPN.com

So you want to know why Barry Bonds did not get called to testify before Congress, do you? Well, that's easy.

Congress wants answers
  • Canseco wants immunity
  • Subpoenas issued, MLB to fight
  • Q&A: Congress, steroids and baseball
  • Olney: MLB brought this on Insider
  • Ratto: Why no Bonds?
  • Kucinich defends inquiry ESPN Motion
  • Bunning: Congress is wrong
  • MLB attorney Brand
  • Gov't spokesman Marin
  • Cossack: Players take the fifth?
  • Cossack: Players not target ESPN Motion
  • Caple: Baseball on right path
  • Ratto: Confession good for soul
  • FAQ on steroids
  • Congress saw his televised performance on March 1 and decided to pass on that kind of cheery hilarity.

    I mean, how much clearer can it be? Jason Giambi gets a subpoena, and so do Curt Schilling and Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa and Frank Thomas and Sandy Alderson and Kevin Towers, but the million-ton elephant in the room (no pun intended) doesn't? Maybe C-SPAN can't get congressional testimony on testicle sizes past the censors.

    Not that C-SPAN couldn't use a good hoot or two. I mean, how much Arlen Specter can one person listen to without clawing at one's eardrums with a sharpened Popsicle stick?

    And besides, Bonds would be reaching a whole new audience, one that doesn't do the green shows on the digital dial, one that watches every showing of the BBC World News, one that thinks Margaret Warner is one yowza-daddy news bunny.

    Oh, this could be a serious treatise on why Bonds should testify (clear the air, save baseball, renew a small child's faith in Tim McCarver) or why he should not (the laws against self-incrimination, the still-pending BALCO trial, his knees still hurt). But we've already got loads of that. This story is strangling on its own oppressive righteousness, so much so that some of your more influential TV sportswriters are urging America to trust Bud Selig and the new drug testing plan just to make the noise inside their heads stop.

    Barry Bonds
    Confrontations are nothing new to Bonds.

    Thus, let's skip all that and conclude that (a) baseball's drug problem is and will continue to be ongoing; (b) baseball isn't all that keen on doing any more than the minimum about it anyway; and (c) Selection Sunday is only four days away.

    But Bonds on the stand really would have been something to behold, just to see him melt Henry Waxman's mustache with his particular brand of acidic combativeness, the kind last seen when Jimmy Hoffa exchanged pledge pins with Bobby Kennedy 40-some-odd years ago.

    You see, Bonds' now infamous press scolding nine days ago looked far more corrosive on the tube than it did in person. Plus, anyone who has heard Bonds on the soapbox once heard this one, right down to the "Sanford And Son" references.

    No, he is a child of the television age, fully capable of saying anything that pops into his head as soon as it arrives. He can disconnect form from content in ways that make Lewis Black look like Meg Tilly.

    And what we could have expected from him really isn't a C-SPAN deal anyway. It's "Outside The Lines," sure, but it is also "Hannity and Colmes," "Chappelle's Show," "Pimp My Ride," Bobby Knight pre-"Season On The Brink," "Blackadder The Third" and anything on the HBO What The Hell Did I Just See channel.

    I mean, some freshman Republican senator starts to ask a question about his relationship with Victor Conte, and he gives back a tart, "Why can't we forget the past and just move on? Why aren't you guys banning cigarettes and hotel porn and Paris Hilton? Why aren't you stopping wars and poverty and fixing education and getting my kids to study in school?"

    (The answer, of course, is that congress can't do anything about any of those things, including Paris Hilton, and stopped trying long ago).

    Or some wizened old Democrat growls out a question about human growth hormone and Bonds snaps, "I'm not answering any questions until your aide leaves the room, and the guy next to him, too."

    Or America's last living socialist, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, brings the house (and the House) down with this: "Who the hell are you, exactly, and why do I give a damn whether you're jamming needles full of Uruguayan death pig pituitary extract into your thighs?"

    And then having Bud Selig leap up and say, "We wanted to test for that pig thing, but that mean old Don Fehr said no."

    The possibilities would have been endlessly fascinating. But they would have been only possibilities, and unrealized ones at that.

    You see, unlike his funny/strange/disjointed/bilious oration last week, this one would feature his lawyer, Michael Rains, at his side, with 30 rolls of yap-sized duct tape and the will to use them. In fact, what you'd mostly see is Rains leaning over to Bonds after every question and whispering in his ear, "If you answer this question with anything other than, 'I can't answer that, Congressman,' I will set fire to your pants cuff here and now, understand?"

    Which, of course, would look to the average viewer like a lawyer gently suggesting a strategy to his slightly bemused client.

    So we'll just have to settle, eventually, for Sandy Alderson, the best actual talker baseball has, and Don Fehr reading the Greater Birmingham phone directory, and Curt Schilling and his bloody sock puppet Hezekiah The Great.

    It won't be great television, but it won't be the soul-crushing stupidity of "America's Next Top Model" or the horrifying specter of Jose Canseco on C-SPAN's "Book Review."

    I mean, next to that, Bud Selig on "Cops" is must-see TV.

    Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com