BOSTON -- For seven years, since his name was leaked in a New York Times report that marked him as one of 100 players who failed an anonymous drug test in 2003, David Ortiz has insisted he did nothing wrong.
On Sunday, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred at least allowed for the possibility that the Boston Red Sox slugger was as innocent as he says.
Speaking at Fenway Park before the final regular-season game of Ortiz's career, Manfred said the 2003 anonymous survey testing agreed upon by MLB and the players' union returned at least 10 scientifically questionable results in addition to the 5 percent of positive tests required to trigger mandatory testing the following year. According to Manfred, those particular tests were inconclusive because "it was hard to distinguish between certain substances that were legal, available over the counter, and not banned under our program."
A confidentiality agreement and the subsequent destruction of those results prevented Manfred from saying with any certainty whether Ortiz was among the potentially false positives. But he couldn't have been clearer that he doesn't believe the mention of Ortiz's name in the New York Times story should cloud his legacy.
"The list was supposed to be confidential. I take very seriously the commitment on confidentiality," Manfred said. "It is really unfortunate that anybody's name was ever released publicly, Point 1. Point 2: I don't think people understand very well what that list was.
"There were legitimate scientific questions about whether or not those were truly positives. If, in fact, there were test results like that today on a player and we tried to discipline them, there'd be a grievance over it. It would be vetted, tried, resolved. We didn't do that. Those issues and ambiguities were never resolved because we knew they didn't matter.
"We knew we had enough positives that everyone agreed on that we knew were going to trigger the testing the following year. Even if Rob Manfred's name was on that list, he might have been one of those 10 of 15 where there was probably or at least a very legitimate explanation that did not involve the use of a banned substance."
Manfred described Ortiz as a "transformative" player because of the impact he has made at the plate during his 20-year career and in the community since he arrived in Boston in 2003.
Based strictly on his numbers, Ortiz has a strong case to be elected to the Hall of Fame. He ranks eighth all time with 1,192 career extra-base hits, 10th with 632 doubles and 17th with 541 home runs. But the shadow of the 2003 test results could dog his candidacy for Cooperstown.
Manfred deferred to Hall of Fame voters to make judgments on Ortiz's career. But he did note that Ortiz "has never been a positive at any point under our program." MLB's drug-testing program was implemented in 2004.
"I think whatever judgment writers decide to make with respect to players who have tested positive or otherwise been adjudicated under our program, that's up to them," Manfred said. "That's a policy decision. They've got to look into their conscience and decide how they evaluate that against the Hall of Fame criteria. What I do feel is unfair is in situations where it is leaks, rumors, innuendo, not confirmed positive test results, that that is unfair to the players. I think that would be wrong."