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Ortiz confirms he tested positive in 2003; Ramirez also on the list

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  July 30, 2009 12:31 PM

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One of the worst fears of Red Sox fans has apparently become a reality.

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David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, the charismatic and remarkably productive sluggers who helped lead the franchise to a pair of World Series titles this decade, were among the 104 players to test positive for performance-enhancing drugs during supposedly anonymous 2003 testing, according to a report in the New York Times this afternoon.

Ortiz responded to the report with a go-ahead three-run homer to rally the Red Sox past the Athletics, 8-5, this afternoon, then with a postgame statement in which he confirmed the positive test. He said he was "blindsided" when a Times reporter asked him about the allegation before the game, and said he responded at the time with a "no comment" because he "wanted to get to the bottom of this." He added:

I want to talk about this situation and I will as soon as I have more answers. In the meantime I want to let you know how I am approaching this situation. One, I have already contacted the Players Association to confirm if this report is true. I have just been told that the report is true. Based on the way I have lived my life, I am surprised to learn I tested positive. Two, I will find out what I tested positive for. And, three, 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.

Speaking to reporters in the clubhouse after the game, Ortiz elaborated on his statement. "I found out like an hour before the game about the situation. You guys know I'm a guy that never turns my back on you guys, always been true with you guys. And, honestly, right now I don't have information about it. I'm going to get more input about the situation and I'm going to honestly tell you guys what's up. But right now, I don't have answers. I've got no information."

The information regarding Ortiz and Ramirez became known though Times interviews with multiple lawyers and others connected to pending litigation regarding the test results between the baseball players union and the government. The lawyers spoke anonymously because the testing information is under seal by a court order, the newspaper reported, and the lawyers did not indicate which drugs were detected.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona, speaking to reporters after the game, said the club stands behind Ortiz, the genial and beloved designated hitter whose uncommon knack for delivering in the clutch helped the Sox end their 86-year title drought in 2004.

"I think David felt all day, a lot of caring from his teammates, and hopefully he knows we care about him," Francona said. "He has earned, as a person, that from us. And we will be very supportive as I hope we are with all our players and we'll get to the bottom of whatever needs to get to the bottom of."

Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia offered similar sentiments. "Obviously, David's our teammate and we love him. He's done everything in the world for me," Pedroia said. "We're here to support him. He's got 24 guys to help him get through stuff like this."

Ortiz had not previously been directly linked to performance-enhancing drug use. As perhaps the signature player of the Red Sox' two championship winners, today's news is a devastating blow to the perception of those teams.

The Red Sox' two championships are only the latest story lines of past seasons to be damaged by performance-enhancing drug revelations. Barry Bonds, the all-time home run leader, Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, and Sammy Sosa, who had three 60-homer seasons, have previously been tied to positive tests from the 2003 season, as have journeymen Jason Grimsley and David Segui.

Baseball first tested for steroids that season, and results were supposed to remain anonymous and eventually be destroyed. But for unknown reasons, they were retained by the players' union, and the information was later seized by federal agents investigating the distribution of PEDs to professional athletes.

Ramirez, the All-Star left fielder who played for the Sox from 2001 until July 31 of last season, when he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, recently completed a 50-game suspension for violating the league's drug policy in May.

By 2003, the season they became teammates on the Red Sox, Ramirez had long since built a reputation as one of baseball's elite hitters. Ortiz, however, had yet to establish himself despite his promise as a power hitter, and the Twins did not re-sign him after the 2002 season. He was signed by the Red Sox and began the season as a backup to, among others, Jeremy Giambi.

After gaining increased playing time several weeks into the '03 season, Ortiz went on to hit 31 homers and drive in 101 runs while helping lead the Red Sox to the postseason. He surpassed those numbers in each of the next four seasons, and his two walk-off hits in the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees helped the Red Sox overcome a 3-0 deficit and propelled them to their first World Series victory since 1918. Ortiz was named the MVP of the ALCS while Ramirez was named the World Series MVP.

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In 2006, Ortiz set a franchise record with 54 home runs, and in 2007 he teamed with Ramirez to help the Red Sox sweep the Colorado Rockies in the World Series for their second championship in four years.

The tandem was broken up a year ago when Ramirez, whom Sox management felt had been insubordinate, was dealt to the Dodgers on July 31. He became an instant sensation in Hollywood, but in May, he was suspended for 50 games after baseball officials discovered he had been prescribed a fertility drug often used by bodybuilders after they stopped using steroids.

Ortiz, 33, has struggled the past two seasons. He missed a significant chunk of last season with wrist problems, and he began this season in a deep slump, failing to homer during the first six weeks of the season.

He has been opinionated on performance-enhancing drug use in the past. While discussing the subject during spring training in February after he was linked to Angel Presinal, a Dominican trainer banned from MLB clubhouses on the suspicion that he supplied steroids to his clients, he said players should be banned for the year if they test positive. Currently, the ban for a first-time offender is 50 games.

"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."

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He added, "I think you clean up the game by the testing. I know that if I test positive by using any kind of substance, I know that I'm going to disrespect my family, the game, the fans and everybody, and I don't want to be facing that situation.

"So what would I do? I won't use it, and I'm pretty sure that everybody is on the same page," he said.

Angels center fielder Torii Hunter, a friend and former teammate of Ortiz's in Minnesota, told ESPN he was stunned by the report.

"This hurts, this really hurts," Hunter said. "I don't know what to think about this. I guess you just never know what people do in the dark.

"I still love him but at the same time it's tough to hear that. I know it's going to be tough on him and tough on his family once this gets out. It's Big Papi, man, it's the big dog of Boston and he helped win two World Series with those guys, with the clutch hits. And now all those things are going to be tainted."

Hunter also told ESPN.com time has come for the names of everyone on the list to be released.

"Whoever got that list is just playing with Major League Baseball right now. Either put [the list] away, or just put it out," he said. "It was anonymous and now the names are leaking and it's a joke."

Mike Lowell, who has been Ortiz's teammate since the 2007 season, said he's tired of hearing about baseball's the PED era and its fallout.

"Unless you give me concrete evidence on everyone, we're getting into a debate that no one can ever answer, so why debate it?," Lowell said. I didn't feel bad about winning the World Series in '07, and I'm not giving any rings back either, so don't ask."

Material from The New York Times was used in this report.

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