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For Ortiz, is it truth or consequences?

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  August 8, 2009 04:29 PM

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NEW YORK -- There is a difference between what we know and what we can prove, and so it is now with David Americo Ortiz. The players union has established its reasonable doubt. Our national pastime has suffered irreparable damage. And those of us on the outside do not know who or what to believe or trust in a web-like entanglement of legalities and constitutional rights.

And so, as Ortiz sat alongside soon-to-be union chief Michael Weiner at Yankee Stadium today, here is the only conclusion that some of us could come to: We cannot pick and choose anymore. We cannot decide which players used steroids and which did not, independent of test results and government lists. We have no choice but to indict all major league players or to set them all free, much to the chagrin of those of us who believe that everything should be decided on a case-by-case basis.

"It's a fair question," Weiner said a short time ago when asked why the union previously had not been so forthright with regard to the particulars of survey testing conducted in 2003.

"We decided that the cumulative effect of these leaks, with this last one, required us to try to set the record straight about 2003 testing. Almost all of what I said today was available in letters that we sent to Congress and has otherwise been publicly available, but it didn't seem to affect the way the stories were being reported. And we thought it was incumbent upon us to protect all the players in the union, those who have previously been tarred with this and any other players who are allegedly on the list, to set the record straight. So it really was the cumulative effect of this latest story and these latest leaks."

And so what is the record, at least that one defined to be "straight" from the perspective of the union? That there were 96 players who turned up positive during the 2003 testing, but that the current infamous government "list" of players contains 104 names. That the union disputed 13 of the 96 positives, and that Major League Baseball did not quibble over those 13 because there was no need. Once MLB got the 83 positive tests needed to reach the 5 percent required to implement a testing program -- think of it as a pass-fail exam -- the game's officials really did not care whether they advanced with a D- or a B+. Baseball had its testing program and the union had its way to protect the players who turned up positive.

Oh, and did we mention that Weiner introduced the possibility of some players being named twice on the list of 83 for having failed multiple tests? With that variable in play, there could actually be 82 players who tested positive in 2003. Or maybe 81. Or maybe 45.

For Ortiz and for anyone else who has been sucked into the eye this steroid storm, all of this allows for plausible deniability. Ortiz is a particularly warm, engaging, and likeable man who always has seemed extremely credible to us. He said today, in no uncertain terms, that he has never bought or used steroids. He admitted that he was "careless" with regard to using "supplements and vitamins." He apologized to fans, teammates, and his manager, the last of whom stood nearby in a visible show of support. If you didn't understand why players like Terry Francona, you certainly should now.

Now the question that every honest fan should ask himself or herself: Do you believe Ortiz because you want to, or do you truly believe he is telling the truth? There is a very big difference. You cannot condemn Roger Clemens and liberate Ortiz, at least not solely based on emotion. You need more evidence than that. This story isn't about Ortiz and the Red Sox so much as it about baseball and a steroids scandal that got wildly out of control, regardless of whether the actual number of positive tests constituted 5 percent or 85 percent of baseball's "tarred" player pool.

"I'm not here to make any excuses or anything," Ortiz said. "I used a lot of supplements and vitamins. I even had companies sending me supplements and things back then, but I never buy steroids or used steroids."

If he is telling the truth, Ortiz has nothing to worry about and some of us owe him an enormous apology. If he is not, he had better hope that we do not come to learn that he tested positive for Winstrol or Stanozolol, or even the Primobolan that took down Alex Rodriguez. If that happens, any credibility Ortiz possesses will be destroyed beyond any recognition and he never will be believable again. (About anything.) Red Sox officials Larry Lucchino and Susan Goodenow were also among those present at the press conference, and the Sox issued a statement effectively supporting their player. The Sox deserve every bit of credit for that, and they retain the right to be just as miffed if it is learned that Ortiz was guilty of far more.

As for the union, let's make a few things clear: Unlike a list of predecessors that has included Marvin Miller, Gene Orza, and Don Fehr, Weiner projects as a more open, honest, decent and reasonable man. He has the interests of his constituency to protect, too. But roughly six months after leaving Rodriguez hanging out to dry, the union now is offering an argument that might have helped A-Rod's case, too. Weiner said that the union has offered assistance to every player affected by this never-ending scandal, but if you are Alex Rodriguez or Sammy Sosa or even Manny Ramirez today, no matter what you say publicly, you seemingly have some right to be very, very angry.

Meanwhile, with regard to those players who never succumbed to the temptation of performance-enhancing substances, the union sold them out a long time ago. In order to protect the guilty, the union damaged the reputations of the innocent. Like we said, we have no choice but to doubt them all at this stage, from A-Rod and Ramirez to Greg Maddux and Derek Jeter. Reasonable doubt swings both ways. In the court of public opinion, innocence does not have to be presumed.

Way back when, during the historic home run race involving Sosa and Mark McGwire and the BALCO scandal surrounded Barry Bonds, those of us with any appreciation for baseball history argued that the game had become a joke. Baseball had turned into professional wrestling. Ordinary players became megastars and megastars became superhuman, and the fact that many of us have grown irretrievably cynical is not our fault so much as it is theirs.

Today, David Ortiz often looked and sounded as if he were telling the truth. Even those of us who are cynics truly hope he was. But given how many players have already lied to us over such a long period of time -- and the indisputable extent to which baseball's problems existed -- our skepticism is no less egregious than his carelessness.

With all due respect to Ortiz and everyone else, the doubt doesn't get erased because someone said some things and answered some questions before some television cameras and notepads in an increasingly image-conscious world.

At this stage, after all, we know way too much.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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