Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

David Ortiz Can Craft a Tale, But He Has Trouble Keeping His Facts Straight

David Ortiz flexing.jpg
Globe File Photo


Give David Ortiz this, at least: He has good story structure.

It’s keeping his multiple stories straight that he seems to have trouble doing.

Ah, yes, the Red Sox slugger’s suspected steroid past has resurfaced yet again. But this time the topic was raised by a surprising source: David Ortiz, himself.

In penning a 2,396-word opus entitled “The Dirt” on Derek Jeter’s supposedly-groundbreaking “athletes only” web site, Ortiz did manage to present a compelling narrative, (albeit with the presumed help of an editor, but hey, first stones and all.)

“In some people’s minds, I will always be considered a cheater,” Ortiz writes. “And that’s bull****. Mark my words: Nobody in MLB history has been tested for PEDs more than me. You know how many times I’ve been tested since 2004? More than 80. They say these tests are random. If it’s really random, I should start playing the damn lottery. Some people still think the testing is a joke. It’s no joke. Ten times a season these guys come into the clubhouse or my home with their briefcases. I have never failed a single one of those tests and I never will.”

Those are bold, defiant words from Ortiz, who probably doesn’t want it pointed out that Alex Rodriguez has never failed an MLB drug test under those parameters either. For all their profane bravado, Ortiz's words managed to do little to silence his critics. If he accomplished anything, it may have been inviting them to further question his motives.

Why? Why did Ortiz feel the need to open a wound?

Ortiz's account was published on Thursday, just hours before The Boston Globe ran its own lengthy look at the way steroid suspicions shadow his aspirations for the Hall of Fame.

Ortiz’s name was linked to performance-enhancing drugs in 2009, when The New York Times reported that he and former teammate Manny Ramirez were among the roughly 100 Major League Baseball players to test positive for illicit substances in 2003. Ortiz has varied his handling of the topic over the years, from vehemently pledging to get to the bottom of it six years ago, to ignoring the accusations outright, to coming out guns blazing at a time when nobody was publicly pressing the issue.

For whatever reason, Ortiz decided the dog days of spring training in 2015 were the right time to take on this topic again, seemingly throwing some caution to the wind while laying out his timeline of events, as well as some other inaccuracies that pepper his piece at The Players' Tribune.

The New York-based blog, “Subway Squawkers” may have provincial reasons to aim for the target on Ortiz’s back, but Lisa Swan does raise some valid points while fact checking Ortiz latest story. For instance, here’s how he dramatically recalls the 2009 moment when he supposedly found out he was on the steroid list in his essay:

“I’ll never forget coming into the clubhouse before a day game against Oakland in 2009 when a reporter came up to me and said, ‘Hey, you know your name is about to be on a list of steroid users on ESPN?’

“I literally said, ‘Ha!’ and walked away. God’s honest truth: I thought he was messing with me.

“About 30 minutes later, I’m getting dressed when I see my face pop up on the TV. I see ‘Failed Test. 2003.’ No one had ever told me I’d failed any test. Now six years later some documents get leaked and they’re saying I’m dirty. I called my agent and asked what was going on. He didn’t have any answers for me. I called the MLB Players’ Association and they didn’t have any answers for me. To this day, nobody has any answers for me. Nobody can tell me what I supposedly tested positive for. They say they legally can’t, because the tests were never supposed to be public.”

Maybe Ortiz was surprised that day when he saw his face on television, but he shouldn’t have been, particularly since he was quoted in The New York Times story that led to all the coverage on ESPN that summer.

“I’m not talking about that anymore,” Ortiz was quoted as saying by the Times’ Michael S. Schmidt in the bombshell 2009 report on the 2003 tests. “I have no comment.”

Anymore? Ortiz kept talking about the testing in 2009 and is now the impetus for further discussion in 2015.

Swan also wonders about Ortiz’s claims about the number of times he’s been tested, which if you believe the player, seems to be at about a rate greater than most Americans cut their fingernails. In his written piece, Ortiz claims that he has been tested "more than 80 times" for PEDs since 2004. He also says he has been tested "ten times a season.” As Swan points out, being tested ten times a season would put him at 110 tests, not 80. Adding a bit more confusion to those figures, Ortiz claimed during a press conference on Aug. 8, 2009 to have passed about 15 drug tests since 2004, when MLB established a comprehensive drug-testing program.

So, he was tested only 15 times over five years, but another 65-95 over the next six?

Ortiz also told WEEI’s Rob Bradford last summer that he’s been tested about 40 times since Major League Baseball approved its testing policy. Based on that claim, he’s been tested at least another 40 times in less than a year if we’re to believe his latest estimation of 80.

Where is the disconnect here?

As noted by Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports' Hardball Talk, Ortiz might have even let it unintentionally slip that he's part of Major League Baseball's stepped up PED "program" for those players who have tested positive and are therefore subject to additional, random tests.

"He claims he’s been tested 80 times in the decade or so there has been drug testing," Calcaterra writes. "That’s an awful lot of testing, especially when you consider that the blood testing just started last year. And that, until last year, the number of in-season random tests was less than half of what it is now. Given that a player not “in the program” gets, at most, four tests a year and more likely 2-3 (less before last year), what possible basis could there be for Ortiz to be tested as often as he claims he has been other than a previous positive test?"

In that August 2009 press conference when he began tossing around figures on the number of tests he'd faced, Ortiz also admitted he was ”definitely was a little bit careless back in those days when I was buying supplements and vitamins over the counter.” But he maintained that he never dabbled into steroids, this despite his relationship with controversial trainer Angel Presinal, with whom he worked out with in the Dominican Republic prior to the World Baseball Classic in 2009. Presinal, of course, is banned from major league clubhouses, and has played a role in Alex Rodriguez’s PED-fueled fall from grace.

“If you think I’m full of it, go to your kitchen cabinet right now and read the back of a supplement bottle and honestly tell me you know what all of that stuff is,” Ortiz writes. “I’m not driving across the border to Mexico buying some shady pills from a drug dealer. I’m in a strip mall across from the Dunkin’ Donuts, bro.” (Nice product placement, for the DD spokesperson by the way.)

Maybe he wasn’t crossing the border to Mexico, but he was undoubtedly crossing it into his homeland, where he admitted buying supplements.

"But I never thought buying supplements and vitamins was going to hurt anybody's feelings," Ortiz also said in August 2009. "If it happened I'm sorry about that.”

As The New York Daily News pointed out after Ortiz's latest explanation, “Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones and others have repeatedly proven that it's possible to pass hundreds of drug tests while using banned drugs thanks to microdosing and masking techniques, designer drugs, and the counsel of sketchy doctors.” That still doesn’t determine Ortiz’s guilt or lack thereof, but it is a reminder that a lack of positive tests isn't always proof of a lack of PED use.

There are so many crossed story lines to Ortiz’s accounts over the years that it’s difficult to know which one to believe. The only facts available are that he once failed a test, and that he hasn’t since. In between, it’s Ortiz’s word up against otherworldly, Hall of Fame-worthy statistics that don’t seem to be slowing down even as he approaches 40.

You would think if he were going to go on the offensive in the manner that he did, he would have at least gotten the truths in his defense lined up.

That’s the only thing in his piece that he didn’t do without any uncertainty.

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