After drug report, it’s innocence lost in Boston

When the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years in 2004, there was euphoria among their fans. When they won a second title three years later, the elation was ratcheted further.

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After going nearly a century between championships, suddenly the Red Sox seemed on the verge of establishing a dynasty.

What made the winning sweeter still was the fact that the Red Sox did it all without the taint of steroids. While other teams were tarred by PEDs, the Red Sox were improbably, even miraculously clean.

Sure, some former players (Roger Clemens, Jose Canseco) were knee-deep in scandal. And some players arrived with rumored past associations (Eric Gagne). But at least as far as MLB testing was concerned, the Red Sox were on the up-and-up.

That the arch-rivals Yankees were deeply implicated by the Mitchell Report and other investigations only made Red Sox fans strut more and puff out their chests farther. Cheating? That was for the Evil Empire. Meanwhile, two World Series wins and moral superiority proved to be an intoxicating combination.

Even when one of their biggest former stars, Manny Ramirez, was nailed for a banned substance earlier this season, Sox fans could easily explain away the transgression. Didn’t happen when he was in Boston.

Thursday, however, the moral high ground came crashing down under its own weight. The two premier sluggers of those title teams, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, had each tested positive during MLB’s provisional survey testing in 2003.

Goodbye moral superiority, hello rationalization.

The news undoubtedly causes a reassessment of the team’s two World Series victories. But most World Series winners — dating back to the mid-1990s — have had at least one player on their roster known to have used steroids, or at the very least, players who have been strongly implicated in PED use.

The 2001 Diamondbacks? Check (Matt Williams) The 1997 Marlins? Check (Gary Sheffield). The 2002 Angels? Check (Troy Glaus). The 2000 Yankees? Check (Clemens, Canseco, Andy Pettitte, Jason Grimsley).

Tainted World Series winners? Sadly, that’s become about as traditional as champagne spray and victory parades.

Steroids have touched the game in every conceivable fashion for the last decade — altering the record books, rearranging history, and impacting how scouts and executives evaluate talent. To think that it was going to leave one particular franchise unblemished is the very height of naivete. Turns out the Sox didn’t corner the market on clean living — they just took longer to get caught.

The fact is that the Red Sox were lucky to go this long without getting any PED-related dirt on them. Lucky that two of the biggest alleged suppliers (Kurt Radomski and Brian McNamee) worked for the two franchises in New York, which in turn provided so much fodder for the Mitchell Report. And lucky, too, perhaps that the “Mitchell” in the Mitchell Report is none other than Sen. George Mitchell, a native New Englander, a lifelong Red

Sox fan and, most curiously, listed as “director” on the Red Sox masthead.

That’s not to suggest that Mitchell, whose integrity has seldom been called into doubt, was somehow derelict in his duty and purposefully overlooked transgressions by Red Sox players and personnel. But his association with the Red Sox seemed, at minimum, a conflict of interest and one more case of perception becoming reality.

Perspective is a useful tool, here, too. Like some crime scene investigation, timing is an important part of the equation. While Ortiz and Ramirez failed the provisional test in 2003, Ortiz hasn’t failed one since and Ramirez didn’t fail one until earlier this spring, by which time he was playing for another team in another league.

Still, if the Red Sox aren’t permanently tainted, Ortiz himself is.

In mid-February, days after it was discovered that Alex Rodriguez was on the same list of notorious 104, Ortiz called for stiffer penalties for those found guilty of doping. In interview after interview — some on-the-record, some off — Ortiz repeatedly wondered how his fellow players could risk embarrassing their families and compromising their health.

For the time being, Ortiz is just another player caught at the intersection of Greed and Stupidity. He swears that he was “blindsided” by the news, vows to get answers and promises to share them.

“You know me,” he said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “I will not hide and I will not make excuses.”

We’ll see. For now, like everything else left in steroids’ wake, he’ll never be looked at the same way again.