NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez admitted on Monday he had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003.
"I did take a banned substance. For that I'm very sorry and deeply regretful," Rodriguez told ESPN in response to a report in Sports Illustrated that he had been one of 104 players who had tested positive that year.
Although there were no penalties for a positive test in 2003, confidential testing was conducted by Major League Baseball in agreement with the players' union to determine if random testing should be introduced in the following year.
Sports Illustrated said the Yankee third baseman had tested positive for a steroid and the male sex hormone testosterone.
Rodriguez, 33, baseball's highest paid player and one year into a 10-year $275 million contract with the Yankees, said he had cheated during his three seasons with the Texas Rangers starting in 2001 but not since.
"When I arrived in Texas in 2001 I felt an enormous amount of pressure. I felt like I had all the weight of the world on top of me to perform and perform at a high level every day.
"Back then it was a different culture. It was very loose. I was young, I was stupid, I was naive," he said.
"And I wanted to prove to everyone that I was worth being one of the greatest players of all time.
"Although it was part of the culture back then...I'm sorry for that time. I'm sorry for my fans. I'm sorry for my fans in Texas," Rodriguez said, his eyes watering.
"It wasn't until then that I ever thought about a substance of any kind and since then I've proven to myself and to everyone that I don't need any of that."
Results of the confidential testing were obtained by the government in conjunction with the investigation into the San Francisco laboratory BALCO and its alleged link with Barry Bonds, baseball's home run record holder.
Rodriguez, the youngest player to hit 500 home runs and who with a total of 553 is on course to overtake Bond's record of 762, said he did not even know the name of the drugs he was taking.
"It was such a loosey-goosey era, that I'm guilty for a lot of things. I'm guilty for being negligent, naive, not asking all the right questions," he said.
"To be quite honest, I don't know exactly what substance I was guilty of using."
The head of the United States Anti-Doping Agency was not impressed with Rodriguez's apology.
"He claims to be sorry that he used hardcore steroids, but it is obvious he is only sorry that he got caught," USADA CEO Travis Tygart told Reuters by e-mail.
After the release of MLB's Mitchell Report in 2007 which found there had been widespread doping abuse in baseball, but did not name Rodriguez, the Yankee slugger was interviewed on the "60 Minutes" TV news show and denied any involvement.
"If he was sorry that he used, he would have admitted it in advance and would not have not provided a stone-faced denial to ... the American public in 2007 when he claimed he had never used or considered using performance-enhancing drugs," Tygart added.
"There are obviously many more questions that must be answered."
Since the introduction of random testing in 2004, MLB has instituted tough penalties for doping offenders -- a 50-game suspension for a first offense, 100 games for a second and a lifetime ban for a third positive test.
Rodriguez, three-times the American League Most Valuable Player, does not appear likely to face punishment from baseball but his status as one of the game's greatest players has been cast into doubt.
He had been viewed as a clean player who could lead baseball past a steroids era that cast shadows over exploits of such celebrated players as Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire.
The Yankees further padded their agreement with Rodriguez by including a potential $30 million in bonuses for milestone home runs along the way to claiming the all-time crown.
Now the question is whether A-Rod's feats will be cause for celebration or rumination about an era of doping in baseball.
(Additional reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington)
Writing by Larry Fine; Editing by John Mehaffey and Ed Osmond