By Tom Verducci
July 30, 2009

Twenty-three years after Jose Canseco, 19 years after Ken Caminiti, six years after Alex Rodriguez, there still exist people who would like to believe that somehow their team and their players avoided steroids. People actually broke down The Mitchell Report on a team-by-team basis, as if it were the official box score of the Steroid Era. For such people there is a day of reckoning with reality, the day that ends the charade of "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain with the syringe." Thursday was such a day for Red Sox Nation.

David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, a modern, Boston version of Ruth and Gehrig, are dirtied. The sluggers combined for 388 home runs from 2003 through '07, two world championships, and, according to The New York Times, two failed steroid tests -- from the infamous "anonymous" 2003 survey samples, the gift from the players that keeps on giving.

Does this mean the Red Sox's world championships are tainted? No more than the titles of the Yankees, Marlins, Diamondbacks, Angels and every other team from the most distrustful era in the history of the game. There was no such thing as a "clean team." There were only teams in which the dirty had yet to be uncovered.

I cannot repeat this enough: We are only in the beginning of the discovery phase of the Steroid Era. Hundreds upon hundreds of players took steroids, and do you know how many have actually admitted to using steroids? About 17. That's it. Seventeen out of 127 implicated players. Seventeen out of, what? Five hundred users? A thousand? More? That's how proud they are of making a choice that the apologists dismiss as "everybody was doing it" and "there were no rules against it." All these years later, despite the excuse makers, and even when we understand what happened, and the users know it is an unspeakable shame.

Ortiz, a tough talker on steroids back in February (well, for anybody caught after 2003, incidentally), mustered no comment when The Times confronted him with news of a failed test.

Here are the home run leaders in the American League from 2003-07: 1. Alex Rodriguez. 2. David Ortiz. 3. Manny Ramirez. Life was great for them until five months ago. Since then, all have been reported to have flunked the 2003 steroid test.

The retired steroid user doesn't answer questions or doesn't even show his face around baseball. Some cross their fingers that their choice remains secret until they get on a Hall of Fame ballot. (I don't think the leaking lawyers will allow it.) That was Sammy Sosa. One day he broke his silence to say he was patiently waiting for the Hall. A week later he was busted by a leaking lawyer. There are scores of nervous former stars out there, hoping they get through another day without their name lighting up the Internet the way Ortiz's name did on Thursday.

But you can't change history, you can only hope someone doesn't uncover it. And if you're on the 2003 list, your odds aren't looking too good. About 104 names are on the list, and between media reports and Kirk Radomski we have seven of them: Rodriguez, Ortiz, Ramirez, Sosa, David Segui, Jason Grimsley and Larry Bigbie. (Barry Bonds was reported to have passed the test but when the feds retested his sample, it turned up positive for a designer steroid that was undetectable at the time.) Ninety-seven more to go, or, to borrow from the drinking song, 97 vials of stanozolol on the wall, 97 vials of stanozolol, you take one down ...

There was anger around the offices of the Boston Red Sox yesterday. They haven't hit a lick lately, they have been whiffing on trade efforts, and now the legacy of their world titles gets slammed by six-year-old drug tests. One of the suits, perhaps kidding on the square, cracked that one of the lawyers who leaked the story must have been a Yankees fan.

But privately the ball club never pretended it was clean. The Mitchell Report included illuminating passages about how general manager Theo Epstein considered steroid use in trade discussions, as if it were another skill, such as power or speed, to be weighed in player evaluation. These are smart people. Did they know what specific players were juicing? Not likely, not with any degree of certainty. But they knew the rules of engagement at the time.

I know. You're tired of it. I get it. You want the full list out only to be done with it, not because it's the right thing to do. (It's not; the agreement should be honored, no matter the leaking lawyers.) We want to believe in baseball with a deep-rooted faith that we don't bring to other sports. It's why baseball movies work and those about other sports don't as much. Half the charm of baseball is what we want it to be, not what it is. Steroids attack our faith, so the best thing to do is wish it away now.

But it won't go away. There will be more leaks, more revelations and maybe even an admission somewhere. There will be another day for another team just like the Red Sox had on Thursday. It just might be your team.

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