FORT MYERS, Fla. -- You can admire David Ortiz’s passion, respect his anger, understand his frustration that his remarkable accomplishments in 13 seasons with the Boston Red Sox -- including three World Series titles -- are filtered through the prism of baseball’s steroid era, and his name being linked to a positive PED test in 2003 that was supposed to be anonymous.
His fellow players surely empathize with his despair that his work ethic, intelligence and mental preparation, not to mention the difficult circumstances of his upbringing that he was able to overcome, are given short shrift in any discussion of what he has done in the game.
What is impossible to accept, however, is the naiveté Ortiz demonstrates in his essay for the Derek Jeter-owned The Players' Tribune website. How can Ortiz possibly believe that passing dozens of drug tests, which he claims to have done in the last decade of testing by Major League Baseball, proves anything other than he has passed dozens of drug tests?
No one in 2015 -- as Ortiz surely must understand -- can offer passed drug tests as irrefutable proof of innocence, not when the two biggest drug cheats in sports, cyclist Lance Armstrong and Ortiz’s onetime close friend, Alex Rodriguez, used to make the same argument, in terms just as passionate as Ortiz, before they were exposed.
Has drug testing helped deter PED use in Major League Baseball? The anecdotal evidence would suggest that it has.
Does passing a drug test entitle any player to a free pass when it comes to questions regarding PED use? In a better world, yes. But not in an environment in which one world-class athlete after another has lied repeatedly about being a user, and offered up passed drug tests as evidence of their innocence.
Armstrong claimed he was the most tested athlete in the world, saying he had been tested for banned substances hundreds of times and never produced a positive result.
Rodriguez repeatedly denied any use of banned substances during his time with the Yankees, which began in 2004. In 2009, he acknowledged that he had used banned substances with the Texas Rangers from 2001 to 2003, before testing went into effect.
For Armstrong and Rodriguez, their downfalls were not related to drug tests, but non-analytic proof.
The United States Anti-Doping Agency built its case against Armstrong based on evidence provided by numerous witnesses that Armstrong used EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone, cortisone and HGH. After years of denials, Armstrong finally came clean to Oprah Winfrey.
Major League Baseball suspended 14 players, including Rodriguez, not because of failed drug tests but because of their involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, with investigators following a paper trail that linked the players to the acquistion of PEDs from a South Florida clinic and the sham doctor who ran it, Anthony Bosch. Rodriguez confessed to PED use only after being granted immunity from prosecution by the government.
Yes, it tugs at the heart to read of Ortiz being confronted by his young son, after hearing fans chanting “Cheater” at his father, and asking his dad if he was a cheater. And it has the ring of authenticity, hearing Ortiz say that being able to tell his son that he is not a cheater means more than induction into the Hall of Fame.
But just as it requires an act of faith for a son to believe in his father, so it does for us. We have been lied to too many times, and have had too many passed drug tests waved under our noses as bogus proof. For Ortiz’s sake, and that of his family, and for his fans, we can all hope there is no Oprah moment in his future.