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Steroids in baseball again top AP sports story

The dark shadow that performance-enhancing drugs continue to cast on baseball was picked as the sports Story of the Year by members of The Associated Press.

Some of the biggest names in the game — Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and David “Big Papi” Ortiz — were linked to performance-enhancing drugs this year, and the story received 800 points in voting by editors at U.S. newspapers that are members of the AP.

The balloting was unusual in that a major story — Tiger Woods’ accident on Nov. 27 and the sex scandal that followed — happened after voting had started. By then, 37 of 161 ballots had been submitted.

Given the extraordinary nature of the Woods story, the AP added it to the top stories ballot Nov. 30 and gave editors who had voted prior to that the chance to submit a new ballot, which about 10 did.

In the end, the Woods’ scandal received 41 first-place votes, compared with 27 for the steroids crisis.

Nonetheless, baseball’s drug woes was still rated a bigger story overall by editors than the Woods’ scandal. Even if only the votes cast after the Woods’ scandal broke were counted, editors still picked the steroid scourge as the year’s top story.

“The impact that that story had made it the story of the year,” said Lance Hanlin, sports editor of the Beaufort (S.C.) Gazette and The (Hilton Head) Island Packet. “It was a big, ongoing, overall story.”

Though only one MLB player tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug in this, the first full year of a toughened program, steroids continued to taint America’s pastime.

Spring training began with A-Rod, the highest-paid player in the game and one of the New York Yankees biggest stars, admitting that he used banned substances from 2001-03 while playing for the Texas Rangers. Almost three months later, Ramirez was suspended for 50 games after baseball obtained records that showed he used a banned female fertility drug.

The summer brought reports that Ortiz and Sammy Sosa were on the infamous “list,” the 104 players who tested positive in baseball’s anonymous 2003 survey. Ortiz insisted he’d never knowingly used performance-enhancing drugs, and there’s no way to know whether he actually tested positive or, if he did test positive, whether it was for steroids or a substance contained in a supplement.

Miguel Tejada was sentenced to a year of probation after pleading guilty in federal court to misleading Congress about the use of performance-enhancing drugs. And Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are still in limbo, their legal cases related to drugs working their way through the system.

Woods’ woes finished as the fifth-biggest story of the year (617 points), following Jimmie Johnson’s historic fourth straight NASCAR championship (690), Roger Federer winning his 15th Grand Slam (639) and Brett Favre ending his (second) retirement to lead the Minnesota Vikings to the division title (637).

Woods was part of two top 10 stories, however. His comeback prior to his precipitous fall found the 10th slot among the top stories.