At the beginning, they called it "Project Bingo." It became better known as the BALCO investigation.

Once again, the probe into athletes' steroid use is redefining America's pastime along with a few other sports, causing some to wonder if we can really believe what we see. Others simply yearn for the day when this will all go away.

Barry Bonds. Roger Clemens. Marion Jones. And now, Alex Rodriguez. Their reputations have been tainted forever, and none of it would have been possible without an investigation that began with a dig through a trash bin and a syringe that arrived anonymously in the mail one day.

"I had a pretty strong inkling, but no idea of the depth and magnitude and number of athletes," said Don Catlin, the scientist who tested the contents of the syringe and became the first to identify the designer steroid THG. "It wasn't so much the number of athletes as much as their names."

The name Barry Bonds stood out among those that IRS special agent Jeff Novitzky saw during his investigation, highlighted by his digs through the trash in the back of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative starting in the spring of 2003.

Bonds stands charged with lying to a grand jury when he denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs, and his trial is scheduled to start March 2.

Whether he's convicted or not, his name and his achievements — especially that hallowed home run record — have been sullied. A-Rod is on pace to eventually overtake Bonds' record, but now all his accomplishments come into question, too.

There are 103 names besides Rodriguez's on a list of baseball players who tested positive in 2003 — names that wouldn't have been on any list were it not for the BALCO investigation, which merged with a similar probe being conducted by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency; that one was called "Project Bingo."

"It has continued to astound me," Catlin said. "It astounds me in a sense that once you start working in this field, nothing surprises you anymore."

Novitzky's digging led to indictments and convictions against BALCO's founder, Victor Conte, and others.

Outrage over doping in baseball prompted Congress to grill its executives about their policies and lack thereof. In an effort to address the doping problem and put it in the past, baseball commissioner Bud Selig ordered up the Mitchell Report, which is where Clemens' name surfaced.

Now, a little more than a year later, it's A-Rod in the headlines.

But unlike Clemens, Rodriguez admitted he cheated.

Those positive test results from 2003 weren't subject to discipline and were supposed to remain anonymous, but were seized by the government in 2004. Federal agents had a search warrant for the testing records of 10 players involved with BALCO. When they saw the spreadsheet with the list of names, agents obtained additional search warrants, copied the entire computer directory and took the records of all the players.

Rodriguez's name leaked out, but the rest of the results remain under seal.

"I think one question that isn't being asked enough is, 'How did A-Rod's name get out there?' " said Michael Josephson, of the Josephson Institute for Ethics. "Did somebody have an agenda there? That was supposed to be classified information, and though you don't condone what A-Rod did, you kind of start saying, 'Is there anybody out there I can trust?' "

Some, including pitcher Curt Schilling, want to see all the names revealed, not just A-Rod's. Should that ever happen, there will be another, spastic round of "gotcha," most of which will confirm what we already know: Baseball was — and maybe still is — a dirty sport.

"I think what we're starting to learn is that the guy who's been the most right about this whole thing is Jose Canseco," said Rick Gentile, a former executive at CBS Sports who is now director of the Seton Hall Sports Poll. "He was the crazy man who said 60 percent of players were using. He was the one who said A-Rod was a user."

Canseco wrote two books — "Juiced" and "Vindicated" — in which he documented the rampant use of steroids in baseball, and said Rodriguez was among the guilty.