NEW YORK — As Barry Bonds prepares to defend his name, the slugger who may eventually surpass him as the all-time home run leader has become ensnared by the Steroids Era: Alex Rodriguez.
Rodriguez tested positive for two anabolic steroids during his MVP season with Texas in 2003, Sports Illustrated reported on its website Saturday.
The New York Yankees star has long denied using performance-enhancing drugs. He declined to discuss the tests when approached by SI on Thursday at a gym in Miami.
"You’ll have to talk to the union," he said.
Major League Baseball and the players’ union issued statements Saturday, refusing to confirm or deny the report, citing player confidentiality.
An email from The Associated Press to Rodriguez’s agent, Scott Boras, was not immediately returned. The Yankees and Rangers declined comment.
The SI revelations come at a time when baseball’s focus on drugs has concerned Bonds and the legal manoeuvring leading to the start of his trial March 2. The government is trying to prove Bonds lied when he told a grand jury he never knowingly took performance-enhancing drugs.
A three-time AL MVP, Rodriguez has hit 553 career homers. At age 33, the all-star third baseman is the highest-paid player in baseball and regarded by many as the most likely to break Bonds’ record of 762.
With this latest report, Rodriguez joined a growing Who’s Who lineup of drug-tainted stars that includes Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Jose Canseco.
In his 2008 book, "Vindicated: Big Names, Big Liars, and The Battle to Save Baseball," Canseco claimed he introduced Rodriguez to a steroids dealer. Canseco, who has admitted using steroids, subsequently said he had no knowledge of any drug use by Rodriguez.
The drug allegations follow an already bumpy off-season for Rodriguez, marked by further talk of his dalliance with Madonna and clubhouse gossip stemming from Joe Torre’s book in which some teammates referred to him as "A-Fraud."
But a week before the Yankees open spring training, Rodriguez — certain to be dubbed "A-Roid" in the New York tabloids — faced more serious allegations after four sources told SI about his drug tests.
Rodriguez’s name appears on a list of 104 players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in a 2003 baseball survey, SI said. He reportedly tested positive for Primobolan and testosterone.
In a December 2007 interview with "60 Minutes," three days after George Mitchell’s report on drugs in the sport was released, Rodriguez denied using performance-enhancing drugs.
"I’ve never felt overmatched on the baseball field. … I felt that if I did my, my work as I’ve done since I was, you know, a rookie back in Seattle, I didn’t have a problem competing at any level," he said.
Rodriguez reiterated his stance at spring training last year.
"Right now, the game is in a very not-trusting situation with our public, with our fans," he said. "Some of the things that I’ve accomplished and potentially some of the things that people think I can accomplish, my name has come up and will probably come up again in the future."
Mitchell said he included in his report the names of players where he "had received credible evidence of their illegal purchase, possession, or use of performance enhancing substances."
"I did not have access to the results of the 2003 drug testing, and to this day I do not know which players tested positive then," Mitchell said in a prepared statement Saturday night.
Rodriguez played for the Rangers in 2003, when he won the AL home run title and MVP award. He was traded to the Yankees in 2004. He is drawing a major league-high US$27 million salary after signing a record $275 million, 10-year contract with New York in 2007.
"We are disturbed by the allegations," MLB executive vice-president Rob Manfred said in a statement. "Because the survey testing that took place in 2003 was intended to be nondisciplinary and anonymous, we cannot make any comment on the accuracy of this report as it pertains to the player named."
Said the union: "Information and documents relating to the results of the 2003 MLB testing program are both confidential and under seal by court orders."
"Anyone with knowledge of such documents who discloses their contents may be in violation of those court orders," the union added.
Baseball’s drug policy prohibited the use of steroids without a valid prescription since 1991, but there were no penalties for a positive test in 2003.
As part of an agreement with the players’ union, the testing in 2003 was conducted to determine if it was necessary to impose mandatory random drug testing across the major leagues in 2004.
The results of the testing of 1,198 players were meant to be anonymous under the agreement between the commissioner’s office and the union. SI reported Rodriguez’s testing information was found after federal agents, with search warrants, seized the 2003 results from Comprehensive Drug Testing, Inc., in Long Beach, Calif.
That was one of two labs used by baseball in connection with the testing. The seizure in April 2004 was part of the government’s investigation into 10 baseball players linked to the BALCO scandal, the magazine reported. Rodriguez has not been connected to BALCO.
.Primobolan, also known as methenolone, is an injected or orally administered drug. It improves strength and maintains lean muscle with minimal bulk development and few side effects. Bonds tested positive three times for methenolone, according to court documents unsealed by a federal judge Wednesday.
Primobolan is not an approved prescription drug in the United States. Testosterone can be taken legally with a prescription.
Rodriguez is set to be honoured Friday by the University of Miami at a dinner on the infield of Mark Light Field in Coral Gables. He donated $3.9 million to refurbish the baseball complex, which is named Alex Rodriguez Park.
The dinner is expected to be held as scheduled, Miami spokesman Mark Pray said. He said the ceremony with Rodriguez is a part of the school’s annual baseball banquet.