NEW YORK (Reuters) - A sense of shock and disappointment was voiced across the United States on Sunday in the wake of a report that baseball's highest paid player Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003.
Major League Baseball withheld comment on Rodriguez after Saturday's Sports Illustrated report that the Yankees slugger was on a list of 104 players that tested positive in confidential testing. But not the nation's newspapers.
"A-ROID" shouted front page headlines in New York's Daily News and Newsday on Sunday.
"ROIDRIGUEZ" fronted the Trentonian of Trenton, New Jersey.
Rodriguez, one year into a 10-year, $275 million pact with the Yankees, has been viewed as a clean player who could lead baseball past a steroids era that has cast doubts over exploits of such celebrated players as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire.
While Major League Baseball's drug policy banned the use of steroids without a valid prescription since 1991, there were no penalties for a positive test in 2003.
That year's confidential testing was conducted in agreement with the players' union to determine if there would be mandatory random testing in 2004 -- which was instituted after a threshold of five percent positive tests was exceeded.
Results of the confidential testing were obtained by the government in conjunction with the BALCO investigation and the alleged involvement of Bonds.
Major League Baseball president and chief operating officer Bob DuPuy said Sunday he was reserving comment on Rodriguez.
"I would prefer to see (the) entire article before commenting," he told Reuters in an e-mail about the Sports Illustrated report initially posted on its website (si.com).
"They were promised anonymity contractually. We are bound by that contract."
Baseball commentators felt compelled to react.
"So now we have it, the Great American Scandal," wrote Tony Massarotti of the Boston Globe. "Alex Rodriguez meets Steroids. Finally, we have an intersection of our soap operatic A-Rod obsession and the plague that infected our national pastime."
Rodriguez, the youngest player ever to hit 500 home runs and with a total of 553 at the age of 33 is on course to overtake Bond's record of 762, has been at the center of other controversies.
There have been tabloid headlines about his purported love life, including talk of a relationship with Madonna, and his standing with team mates, who used to refer to him as "A-Fraud," according to a recently published book by former Yankee manager Joe Torre.
His prodigious accomplishments on the field, however, had not come into serious question.
"This is different than Madonna or strip clubs or (contract) opt-outs or a messy divorce. This puts him in a different kind of story, with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens," wrote Mike Lupica in the Daily News.
Rodriguez declined to comment when approached by Sports Illustrated and his agent, Scott Boras, told reporters that the Yankee third baseman was out of the country.
His hometown newspaper, the Miami Herald, reacted with dismay.
"Baseball's steroids scandal followed us home Saturday, hitting at our heart in a way it hadn't before," Greg Cote wrote. "Alex Rodriguez, son of Miami and maybe the greatest ballplayer ever, is tainted now, if the report is true.
"He always seemed above cheating -- he was The Natural amid all the syringes -- but that was before the latest news hit like a fastball to the chin."
Chicago Tribune's Phil Rogers offered some advice.
"Please, Alex Rodriguez, do yourself a favor. Call a news conference and tell the truth, the whole truth, about your use of steroids," Rogers wrote.
"Come clean for your own good and to lessen the fishbowl hell that will be the last nine years of your 10-year deal with the New York Yankees, or however long you can take the abuse that is coming your way."
Editing by Miles Evans