(bypass the lucky gravy : Prince Fielder, above, before and after his serious training and nutrition plan)

Phil Sheridan, who’s been known to moonlight at the Philadelphia Inquirer seven days a week, hits on an important point while summing up the post-Bonds world.

One of the prevalent, and most disturbing, Bonds angles has been the possibility that a “clean” athlete – presumably Alex Rodriguez – will break the home-run record relatively soon, that there is consolation in the prospect that Bonds won’t hold it as long as Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron did.

This angle is uncomfortably similar to the steroids-won’t-help-baseball-players mind-set that kept many baseball media types from taking the subject seriously 10 years ago.

Who knows whether A-Rod is truly clean? Who knows if Ryan Howard or Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder or anyone is truly clean? It is an indictment of Major League Baseball, the commissioner’s office and the players’ union that we can’t be certain about any player.

The steroid era won’t end until we can….

Meanwhile, there is no testing for human growth hormone in baseball or any other major sports league. Apply the lessons of the last few years and you’re forced to conclude that the hormone is being used by a significant number of players, and that effective testing will serve only to drive the cheaters on to the next thing.

One of the prime reasons for suspecting Bonds – the dramatic change in his appearance, including the size of his head, late in his career – simply doesn’t apply to many of the game’s young stars. We have no “Before” pictures of Rodriguez or Pujols. That doesn’t prove they’re clean, only that they came along after the culture of cheating was well-established and more sophisticated.

Aside from the fact that Sheridan’s location seemingly prevented him from making second reference to a certain Phillies slugger (or, to be fair, Prince Fielder), I’d say he’s completely on the mark. Also, I don’t think any of these guys deserve the burden of pursuing a”clean” record. The fact that we might want them to just shows how much we’re willing to get fooled again – or how little it all matters.