By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 8, 2009
New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, the consensus best player in baseball and presumed heir to Barry Bonds's all-time home run record, tested positive for steroids while playing for the Texas Rangers in 2003, the year he won the first of his three most valuable player awards, according to a story posted on Sports Illustrated's Web site yesterday morning.
According to the report, Rodriguez was one of 104 players on a list of positive tests that year, when baseball instituted "survey" testing to determine the extent of steroid use in the game. Those supposedly anonymous results were seized in April 2004 by federal agents investigating the Balco steroid ring, which did not involve Rodriguez. The legality of that seizure is the subject of a case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Pasadena, Calif.
A message left for Rodriguez's publicist yesterday was not returned, but Rodriguez, who has repeatedly denied having used steroids, is quoted by SI.com as declining comment. "You'll have to ask the union," he reportedly said. "I'm not saying anything."
Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball's executive vice president for labor relations, would not discuss the validity of the story, saying in a statement that the 2003 survey testing was "intended to be non-disciplinary and anonymous."
While Rodriguez is unlikely to face discipline over the findings -- since baseball did not begin attaching punishment to positive tests until 2004 -- the story has undoubtedly tarnished Rodriguez's much-scrutinized career and affixed a new face to baseball's seemingly unending drug scandal.
In the past two years, the sport has seen arguably the best hitter in history, Bonds, and the best pitcher in history, Roger Clemens, indicted for allegedly lying about drug use. Bonds's perjury trial is scheduled to begin in San Francisco on March 2; a grand jury in Washington has begun hearing witnesses in Clemens's case.
Rodriguez, 33, is baseball's highest-paid and arguably most visible player, having signed a 10-year, $275 million contract extension with the Yankees 15 months ago. With 553 career home runs, more than anyone has ever hit before their 34th birthday, Rodriguez is widely expected to threaten Bonds's record of 762 by his late 30s.
While it was a common sentiment during Bonds's tainted chase of Hank Aaron's record in 2007 that Rodriguez's eventual succession would once again restore legitimacy to the record, there were persistent whispers throughout baseball that Rodriguez himself had used steroids. In his 2008 book, "Vindicated," disgraced slugger Jose Canseco said he had introduced Rodriguez to his own steroids supplier.
"I did everything," Canseco wrote, "but inject the guy myself."
According to the SI.com report, which attributed the information to four independent sources, Rodriguez tested positive for both testosterone and methenolone, which is known more commonly by the brand name Primobolan. Bonds allegedly tested positive for the same substances in 2000, according to evidence released this week by the judge hearing his perjury case.
"I think in the climate that we have today, you don't have much shock anymore," John Hart, the Rangers' senior adviser, and their general manager in 2003, told the MLB Network. "It hurts a little bit, if in fact this is true."
The SI.com story also accused Gene Orza, the longtime chief operating officer of the players' association, of tipping off Rodriguez in September 2004 about a drug test later that month. Orza did not return a message left on his cellphone yesterday, but he is quoted as telling SI.com, "I'm not interested in discussing this information with you."
The union released a statement yesterday denying the charge.
"There was no improper tipping of players in 2004 about the timing of drug tests," the union's statement said. "In September 2004 MLBPA attorneys met with certain players, but we are not able to confirm or deny the names of any players with whom we met."
Manfred, in his statement, said the allegation involving Orza is "of grave concern . . . as such behavior would constitute a serious breach of our [drug-testing] agreement."