Around The Bases Vol XV: Big Papi Speaks, Has MLBPA Public Backing

ortizJust as we thought we were finally getting a grip on the elusive shadow that is the steroids era, the Major League Baseball Players Association threw us another curveball. Here we were, fat, happy, and feeling relatively smarter by the day, secure in the knowledge that steroids had seriously damaged the game we love. But we were slowly starting to come back from it.

Yes, there was a list out there with 104 names of players who had failed a drug test in 2003. And names on that list were starting to be leaked, against court order, I should add. But so far, none of the names that had been leaked from that list were a big surprise: Jason Grimsley, Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, and David Segui. But that all changed last week. Not with the release of Manny Ramirez’s name, but with the release of Red Sox DH David Ortiz’s name.
Ortiz immediately said that he didn’t know what he took to be on the list, and that as soon as he found out, he would let us know. Papers all across the land, including Boston, publicly hung Big Papi out to dry.

He was, after all, a local folk hero. And what is more fun than bringing down a local folk hero. The longer the week dragged on, the more Papi’s name was dragged through the muck and mire that has become the mess of the steroid scandal.

If he’s innocent, why doesn’t he just say so and get on with it. If he took something, why doesn’t he just tell us what he did so we can forgive him and move on with the pain that has become the 2009 pennant race. How could he not know what he took? It went on and on.

Well, on Saturday, he finally spoke to the media and public. He told us all that he has never bought steroids. He told us that he has never taken steroids. Many want to believe him. Some don’t want to.

For the past couple of years, David Ortiz has been one of the more vocal people in baseball against steroid abusers. He has gone on record to say that the punishment of a 50 game suspension for the first offense is far too lenient and that they should be suspended for an entire season.

At the beginning of this season, he said that he would never do steroids because of the embarrassment that it would bring onto his family, his children, his teammates.

The problem is, whether he’s telling the truth or not, he’s being painted with the same broad brush that the rest of the players before him are painted with, and he only has his predecessors to thank for it.

Now, here’s the rub: On Saturday, the MLBPA released a statement saying the following:

“It should be pointed out that the names on the list, which was prepared by the federal government and not by anyone associated with our Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, are subject to uncertainties with regard to the test results. There are more names on the government list (104) than the maximum number of positives that were recorded under the 2003 program (96). And, as the Mitchell Report made clear, some of the 96 positives were contested by the union.

Given the uncertainties inherent in the list, we urge the press and the public to use caution in reaching conclusions based on leaks of names, particularly from sources whose identities are not revealed.”

Whoa! Back up the cart. Let’s get this straight. There are 104 names on the list. Only 96 of them tested positive for steroids. So eight of them tested positive for… what, exactly? We can guess supplements that were actually legal at the time. Oh, by the way, several of the 96 remaining tests were contested by the union.

By the way, there are also certain reports that not only are eight of the 104 players listed on the list not guilty of a positive steroid test result, but that there may be some players named on that list more than once, for failing the test two or more times. So there may not even be 96 actual PLAYERS on the list that came up positive for steroids.

The Boston Red Sox, in their official statement defending Ortiz said, “The Players Association made it clear in its public statement today that there are substantial uncertainties and ambiguity surrounding the list of 104 names from the 2003 survey test. Indeed, there is even uncertainty about the number of players on this 2003 government list, whether it is 104, 96, 83, or less. Many of those uncertainties apparently relate to the use of then-legal nutritional supplements that were not banned by Baseball.”

Now, my first question is, why are they just releasing this information now, when names have been leaking off of this list for the past six months? I don’t know, but a reasonable guess is that David Ortiz may be one of the eight people who are on the list for something other than steroids and the others weren’t, so they feel compelled to come to his defense.

I have said several times, in prior columns, that they should not release the list. That it is tantamount to filling out a “anonymous” survey at work, then getting fired for it later. Not to mention that it’s in violation of civil rights, blah, blah, blah….

But, with the latest revelation released on Saturday by the Players Association, I change my vote. I think they have to find a way to release the names. I think now, with this new information, we need to know who on that list came up positive for steroids, and who on that list tested positive for taking then-legal supplements so we can separate the guilty from the not so guilty. The public has a right to know, and the players have a right to not be lumped together.

There is no doubt that more names will be leaked. Anybody who thinks otherwise is living in a Pollyanna world. Are we going to go through this every single time? And now that we have this new information from the players’ union, that just opens the window for every single player named from here on out to tell us that they are one of the eight players that took supplements and not steroids.

Rest assured. If the list is not released, and more names are leaked, we will never have another player admit to doing anything. Why would they?