With the way society has treated MLB stars outed for cheating with performance-enhancing drugs, it’s dumbfounding that David Ortiz is still revered as a baseball great.
Alex Rodriguez’s reputation was dragged through the dirt and tossed like a body disposed by the mafia. Barry Bonds’ achievements were dismissed like a college student too hungover to ever make it to class. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were banished to fade away into obscurity. It’s been so bad for Sosa that he looks like a ghost these days.
— #FNLradio #TDR (@mrdoc) July 16, 2017
So what’s so special about “Big Papi”?
Ortiz retired from the Boston Red Sox in 2016 with a send-off similar to the farewell tour New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter received in 2015. Jeter was a PED-free superstar who played in an era riddled with cheaters, while Papi was… another one of those cheaters. Well, not according to Ortiz, of course. In 2009, Ortiz vowed to look into the results of his failed 2003 PED test, yet nothing ever came of it. In 2016, he finally opened up about the test with Sports Illustrated, denying his PED user label. Unsurprisingly, no legitimate proof was offered, though.
Miraculously, he received a free pass.
Ortiz’s failed PED test was rarely ever even mentioned until this past May, when the retired slugger brought the mostly-forgotten story back into the light himself. While he still didn’t have any proof he played the game the right way, he did manage to point the finger at someone else — vindictive New Yorkers. Not just any New Yorkers, either.
No, Ortiz put on his best Donald Trump hat and took aim at the New York Times. According to Papi, the Times was so unhappy that several Yankees players were outed by the 2003 screening that it leaked Ortiz’s failed test in an attempt to take Boston down. When in doubt, blame New York bias.
“What was the reason for them to come out with something like that?,” Ortiz told WEEI sports radio in Boston. “The only thing that I can think of, to be honest with you, a lot of big guys from the Yankees were being caught. And no one from Boston … This was just something that leaked out of New York and they had zero explanation about it …”
Whether or not the Times leaked Ortiz’s name as some sort of revenge against the Red Sox does not matter. At the end of the day, he was named among a group of PED users, but somehow evaded the witch hunt. It’s mind-boggling.
For all you conspiracy theorists out there who still take Ortiz’s side, go look at his stats. His career arc screams PED user. For his first six seasons, Ortiz failed to make much of an impact, totaling 58 home runs at a rate of one every 25.5 at bats. Then, at age 27, he took off.
Of all the players in the 500-home run club, Ortiz recorded the least amount of his career home runs (11 percent) though his age-26 season. Furthermore, a staggering 97 percent of his career offensive output came after his age-26 season. The only other players in the 500-home run club who similarly recorded under 15 percent of their total offensive production before turing 27 are Sammy Sosa (also 3 percent) and Barry Bonds (14 percent). Rare company, indeed.
Sports fans like to think that everyone is on a level playing field, but we may never know this with 100 percent certainty. Cheaters will always find clever ways to avoid getting caught for brief periods. What’s inexcusable, however, is the fact that all players have not been held to the same standard by the media once they stepped off the playing field. Let’s just hope the Baseball Hall of Fame does.