New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, the consensus best player in baseball and presumed heir to Barry Bonds' all-time home-run record, tested positive for steroids while playing for the Texas Rangers in 2003, the year he won the first of his three most valuable player awards, according to an article posted yesterday on Sports Illustrated's Web site.

According to the report, Rodriguez was one of 104 players on a list of positive tests that year, when baseball instituted "survey" testing to determine the extent of steroids use in the game.

Those supposedly anonymous results were seized in April 2004 by federal agents investigating the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative steroids ring, which did not involve Rodriguez. The legality of that seizure is the subject of a case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Pasadena, Calif.

A message left for Rodriguez's publicist was not returned. Rodriguez, who repeatedly has denied having used steroids, is quoted by SI.com as declining to comment.

"You'll have to ask the union," he reportedly said. "I'm not saying anything."

Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball's executive vice president for labor relations, would not discuss the validity of the story, saying in a statement that the 2003 survey testing was "intended to be non-disciplinary and anonymous."

Though Rodriguez is unlikely to face discipline over the findings - since baseball did not begin attaching punishment to positive tests until 2004 - the story undoubtedly has tarnished Rodriguez's much-scrutinized career and affixed a new face to baseball's seemingly unending drug scandal.

In the last two years, the sport has seen arguably the best hitter in history, Bonds, and the best pitcher in history, Roger Clemens, indicted for allegedly lying about drug use. Bonds' perjury trial is scheduled to begin in San Francisco on March 2; a grand jury in Washington has begun hearing witnesses in Clemens' case.

Rodriguez, 33, is baseball's highest-paid and possibly its most visible player, having signed a 10-year, $275 million contract extension with the Yankees 15 months ago. With 553 career home runs, more than anyone has ever hit before their 34th birthday, Rodriguez is widely expected to threaten Bonds' record of 762 in his late 30s.

While it was a common sentiment during Bonds' chase of Hank Aaron's record in 2007 that Rodriguez's eventual succession once again would restore legitimacy to the record, there were persistent whispers throughout baseball that Rodriguez had used steroids. In his 2008 book, Vindicated, disgraced slugger Jose Canseco said he had introduced Rodriguez to his own steroids supplier.

According to the SI.com report, which attributed the information to four independent sources, Rodriguez tested positive for testosterone and methonolone, which is known more commonly by the brand name Primobolan. Bonds allegedly tested positive for the same drugs in 2000, according to evidence released last week by the judge hearing his perjury case.

"I think in the climate that we have today, you don't have much shock anymore," John Hart, the Rangers' senior adviser, and their general manager in 2003, told the MLB Network.