“I would suggest everybody get tested, not random, everybody. You go team by team. You test everybody three, four times a year and that’s about it,” Red Sox slugger David Ortiz said back in February. Asked what should happen to players who tested positive, Ortiz responded, “Ban ‘em for the whole year.”
Last Thursday, one of the most beloved members of the Red Sox’s 2004 and 2007 championship teams was forced to sing a different tune. The New York Times reported that Ortiz was on the list of 104 players who tested positive for steroids back in 2003, along with his former Sox teammate Manny Ramirez, who is fresh off a 50-game suspension for using steroids earlier this season.
Cue Big Papi’s carefully worded statement: “Today I was informed by a reporter that I was on the 2003 list of MLB players to test positive for performance-enhancing substances. This happened right before our game, and the news blindsided me … Based on the way I have lived my life, I am surprised to learn that I have tested positive …”
Sounds just like every other player who is sorry that he took steroids, but sorrier that he got caught, right?
Unfortunately — or perhaps fortunately, depending on how you look at the situation — this case is not that simple. Back in 2003, there were no penalties for testing positive for substances. Because there were no penalties, it seems logical that players would have been less careful about what they were ingesting. Players hailing from other countries, specifically from Latin American countries, will tell you just how loosely regulated supplements are — including Ortiz himself, back in May 2009.
“I used to buy a protein shake back in my country. I don’t do that anymore because they don’t have the approval for that here, so I know that, so I’m off buying things at the GNC back in the Dominican. But it can happen anytime, it can happen. I don’t know. I don’t know if I drank something in my youth, not knowing it,” he said.
This storyline was compounded by a Monday report that said eight of the 104 players tested positive because of dietary supplements and not injected steroids. And as the government is the only body that currently has access to information about which players tested positive for which substances, it is not something that appears likely to resolve soon.
If Big Papi did knowingly use steroids, shame on him for suggesting a one-year ban for steroid use and joking, “I should use steroids just to see what’s going on.” At this point, hypocrisy is more of a threat to baseball than reformed steroid users. Players who used steroids — especially the stars — should realize the likelihood of their use being leaked. A-Rod, Manny, Sammy Sosa — how many outed stars does it take for players to realize that they are not special enough to avoid past problems? Do they even realize that the players who own up to their mistakes are the ones who are able to focus on baseball, while the ones who avoid the questions and make carefully-worded denials are the ones who are vilified? If you want an example, look at the contrast between Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens. Pettitte admitted to using HGH on two occasions because he “was looking to heal,” and said he accepted responsibility for the two days he used HGH. Clemens, on the other hand, has given every weird excuse he can think of, from saying Pettitte “misremembered” a conversation about Clemens having HGH injected by his trainer Brian McNamee, to saying the steroids were used by his wife instead.
If Ortiz really did take steroids — not a then-legal supplement, not a tainted protein shake, but steroids by injection — I would love to see him accept responsibility and issue the following statement: “I made a mistake. I should not have used [insert steroid name here], but I got caught up in the baseball culture back then because there was little regulation and absolutely no penalties. It was not and will never be okay to cheat, and it’s time that players and MLB officials work together to create a clean game. I will advocate for a stronger drug policy to explain to fans that it is a priority to clean up the sport, and I resolve to be tested as part of that project to demonstrate my commitment to being clean. I have spoken out on this issue in the last year because I feel so strongly about the need to adhere to a stringent drug policy and create a level playing field. I hope that my example will be a lesson to other major leaguers and baseball players of all ages. I was wrong, and I apologize to everyone I affected.”
This should be followed up by the Players’ Association and MLB brass issuing a joint statement, saying, “We cannot release the rest of the names from that 2003 list because the legality of the government seizing the testing data is currently under appeal in a court of law. We can, however, reiterate that the intent of the test was to establish the presence of steroids in baseball, and we accept responsibility for allowing the problem to proliferate before our eyes. It is an absolute priority of ours to clean up the sport and work to combat steroid use in baseball, which is why we instituted a penalty system. But nothing would be accomplished by leaking the big-name players who ended up on that list while it remains in a court of law.”
I want to believe that Big Papi is innocent. I want to believe that he wouldn’t have suggested a one-year ban for steroid use and proclaimed his commitment to a clean game when he knew he was hiding a past of rampant steroid use. I want to believe that this really was an honest mistake and his numbers improved as a result of playing home games in hitter-friendly Fenway Park. But until Big Papi provides more information and we find out if he really was one of the eight guys who tested positive because of a tainted supplement, I’ll continue to feel like I just found out there is no Santa Claus. I want to believe that he’ll follow through on one of the final parts of his Thursday statement: “…Based on whatever I learn, I will share this information with my club and the public. You know me — I will not hide and I will not make excuses.”
I can only hope that my faith is rewarded.