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, even surpassing the Tiger Woods sex scandal.
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, which swayed editors to pick the steroid scandal over Woods’ fall from grace.
"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."
In fact, the Woods scandal finished fifth in the top story voting. Jimmie Johnson’s historic fourth straight NASCAR championship was second, followed by Roger Federer winning his 15th Grand Slam and Brett Favre ending his (second) retirement to lead the Minnesota Vikings to the division title.
This year’s balloting was unusual in that a major story — Woods’ accident on Nov. 27 and the salacious revelations that followed — happened after voting had started.
By then, 37 of 161 ballots had been submitted by editors at U.S. newspapers which are members of the AP. The voters were asked to rank the top 10 sports stories of the year, with the first-place story getting 10 points, the second-place story receiving nine points, and so on.
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.
The final tally had the steroids story with 800 points to 617 points for the Woods’ scandal. And 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.
Voters who included the Woods saga on their list, however, were more likely to make it their top item: His downfall received 41 first-place votes compared with 27 for the steroids crisis.
The specter of performance-enhancing drug tainted America’s pastime through much of the season.
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.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ sixth Super Bowl victory, on a spectacular catch by Santonio Holmes, wound up in sixth place in the top story voting. The Yankees’ 27th World Series title was seventh, with Usain Bolt’s world records in the 100- and 200-meter sprints coming next.
Tom Watson’s valiant, second-place finish at the British Open at age 59 was ninth, and — in a quirky finish — Woods’ performance on the golf course, where he came back from injury and claimed the No. 1 ranking, was ranked 10th.