Baseball’s steroid era is effectively over, just not the way most of us imagined. There’s nobody left to bust that would make most fans give a damn.

“This isn’t going to have any impact on either of us,” Manny Ramirez said a few days ago, reacting to news that he and one-time Red Sox teammate David Ortiz turned up on the list of players who tested positive during Major League Baseball’s 2003 steroid survey program. “We’re going to both keep hitting.”

If it’s any consolation, that last part is still easier said than done.

Ramirez is 6-for 37 in his last eight games, barely above .200 since the All-Star break, and other than a grand slam on July 22, isn’t producing the kind of fireworks that used to be his calling card. Ramirez was booed Sunday night in Atlanta, much as he was last week in St. Louis, but he can count on plenty of love the second the Dodgers return to Los Angeles. Fans there already forgave him last month upon Ramirez’ return from a 50-game suspension for performance enhancing earlier this season.

Ortiz has been mired in a season-long slump and is still struggling to hike his average up to his listed weight of 230. No matter. Not long after a story on The New York Times’ Web site identified him and Ramirez as the latest of the 104 players who were either too lazy, dumb or arrogant to avoid getting caught during the survey testing, Big Papi hit a go-ahead three-run homer in Boston to beat Oakland.

A sold-out crowd gave him a standing ovation that didn’t end until Ortiz popped out of the dugout for a curtain call. Everybody in the organization vouched for him, and Ortiz promised — once he had all the facts — to defend his reputation as a clean ballplayer.

“The news blindsided me,” he said in a statement. “Based on the way I have lived my life, I’m surprised to learn I tested positive. … You know me – I will not hide and I will not make excuses.”

The drip, drip, dripping of names of that list from six years ago has been likened to water torture and death from the 1,000 cuts, and the comparison is not bad, as far it goes.

There were no penalties for a positive test in 2003; the anonymous tests were conducted to find out if was necessary to impose mandatory random drug testing across the major leagues in 2004. Federal agents investigating the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative seized the results as part of their case, and the players union challenged that seizure as illegal. The matter is currently before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and may yet wind up before the Supreme Court.

The practical effect of all those investigations has stained the careers of just about everybody implicated in one way or another – think of the principals of the once-grand home-run chase staged by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa — and run up considerable legal bills for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

But as Ramirez noted, it’s had very little immediate impact on him and Ortiz, as well as Alex Rodriguez, also named as part of the performance-enhancing class of 2003, and just about every other active player who’s been. The fans and fellow players have been hearing the rumors for at least a decade, a credible drug-testing program has been in place for half that time and there’s been a lengthening list of cheaters caught, yet none of it’s made a difference.

TV revenues are healthy, MLB has chalked up record attendance in four of the last five seasons, and might have done so again this year if not for the state of the economy. Despite the fact that releasing the names off that list is illegal, there have been increasing call from players inside the game to get them all out.

“I’m sure the other 96 or 97 guys are probably thinking, ‘When is this going to come out?'” said Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon, who played with Ortiz and Ramirez on Boston’s 2004 World Series team before moving to New York.

“I think for the sake of the players who are on that list, it might be beneficial, so they don’t have to look over their shoulders.”

Though he can’t say so publicly, commissioner Bud Selig, too, would choose disclosure in a heartbeat. Being an old-school sort, he’d probably argue the release is important to protect the clean players, even though no one will ever get the benefit of the doubt again. Being a businessman, Selig also knows the tipping point in this scandal has already been reached; that disclosure won’t make a dent at the gate.

Dragging out the names isn’t serving anybody’s purpose. unless you count reporters.

“For me,” Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon told reporters a few days ago, “nothing good comes from it. There are no consequences. So what’s the point?”


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