BOSTON – He had been blindsided, he said, when confronted by the news that he had tested positive for steroids in 2003. Now, in the glare of the most uncomfortable spotlight of his career, David Ortiz(notes) wore oversized sunglasses in the middle of the Boston Red Sox clubhouse while pledging to search for an explanation of how Big Papi could be accused of living the Big Lie.
There was none Ortiz could offer Thursday afternoon. He didn't know until he called the players union, he said, that the New York Times report was true, that he, along with former Red Sox teammate Manny Ramirez(notes), were among the roughly 100 players whose urine had come up positive during supposedly anonymous survey testing. His inclusion on the list was a surprise to him, he said. He didn't know, he said, what he'd tested positive for.
"I'm honestly going to tell you guys what's up,'' Ortiz told the media cluster around him. "Right now, I have no answers. I've got no information.''
For Red Sox fans who have considered it a malediction that their team went 86 years between winning World Series titles, there is now perhaps an equally onerous burden to shoulder, that the joy of winning two World Series titles in a span of four years has been forever compromised. Ortiz and Ramirez, the game's most formidable slugging tandem in their nearly six seasons together, stained by the same ignoble brush.
Shocking news? Only to those clinging to the naïve belief that the Red Sox somehow were wrapped in an innocence unknown to all the other teams whose miscreants in the Steroid Era already have been exposed, none more so than the archrival Yankees, whose list of accused players could fill a scorecard: Rodriguez. Clemens. Giambi. Pettitte. Sheffield. Knoblauch. Justice. Grimsley, Stanton. Nearly two dozen Yankees, past and present, named in the Mitchell Report alone (A-Rod's unmasking would come later).
Because the author of the Bud Selig-mandated report on performance-enhancing drug use, former Maine Sen. George Mitchell, is listed as a director of the team, some believed the Red Sox might have gotten a pass. No more, not after still another leak to the New York Times by "lawyers with knowledge of the results." Ortiz and Ramirez became the first players on Boston's title-winning teams to be linked to steroids, though Manny, since moved on to the Dodgers, already had trespassed against the game and is getting his second dunking into the PED muck.
He was suspended for 50 games after MLB officials discovered he had been prescribed human chorionic gonadotropin, a fertility drug for women that men can use to generate production of testosterone after they have stopped using steroids.
Ramirez has never owned up to anything, waving it off under a McGwire-esque all-in-the-past catchall.
Ortiz, told by a New York Times reporter about an hour before the game Thursday of the newspaper's story, has vowed to respond differently.
"We admire his approach to this,'' Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said after pledging the club's support. "He's not going to run from this. He's not going to hide from this.
"He needs some time to get some answers. Then he's going to stand up and answer every question. I admire that and encourage it.''
Unstated was this: What possible answer can Ortiz find to explain away a positive test? The "I didn't know what I was taking" defense has already been found wanting for others, and it won't stand for Ortiz, either. Writing in his blog, former teammate Curt Schilling(notes), whose bloody-sock heroics in the 2004 ALCS miracle comeback against the Yanks were perhaps matched only by Dave Roberts'(notes) stolen base and Ortiz's two walkoff hits to win two games on the same calendar day, made it clear he would brook no such excuse.
"The only thing sadder than the continued 'revelations' of new names and new drugs are the excuses following them,'' Schilling wrote on his blog today. "Female estrogen? I didn’t know what I was taking? I had no idea it was steroids? … Do you honestly for one second think ANY (emphasis his) player, ANY professional athlete who has been caught up in this allowed a cream to be rubbed, a needle to be stuck, or a pill to be taken and wasn’t aware that the substance was or was not a steroid?''
When Ortiz's close friend, Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez(notes), was revealed on the cusp of spring training to have tested positive in 2003, Ortiz had sat on a picnic table at Boston's facility in Fort Myers, Fla., decrying the effect steroids had on the game.
"I think you clean up the game by the testing," Ortiz said at that time. "I test you, you test positive, you're going to be out. Period. ''
"Bang" the guilty for a year, he said. And now he is the one who stands accused, a man who swore he'd never use steroids because he didn't need to be a superhero to his children and thus would not jeopardize his health.
"He's going to deal with this head-on,'' Boston manager Terry Francona said.
But usually in a head-on collision, especially with the truth, no one walks away unscathed. Not even a sports figure as beloved in Boston as Ortiz, once presented a plaque by Red Sox owner John W. Henry calling him the greatest clutch hitter in team history.
In the seventh inning Thursday, with the Red Sox trailing by two runs, Ortiz came to the plate with two runners on base and hit a home run over the Boston bullpen, a blow that would propel the Red Sox to victory. Ortiz did a little leap and bumped chests with teammate Mike Lowell(notes). He emerged from the dugout and took a curtain call from the cheering fans.
It all looked so familiar. It all felt so different.
"I so want to get past this,'' Lowell said. "Every two months, what are we going to do, some lawyer is going throw out a couple more names and we're going to rehash this all again?
"I don't think this is going to be easier [for Ortiz]. David is a guy who always is straightforward. He speaks from the heart. We'll see how this plays out.''
Baseball is a game celebrated by poets. On this day, it once again belonged to the cynics, or the flinty-eyed realists. The message boards on the Sons of Sam Horn website provide a gathering place for some of the Red Sox's most ardent and well-informed fans. The thread about Ortiz and Ramirez was entitled, "The Sum of All Fears,'' with many posters lamenting the news while indicating they were not surprised.
"And tomorrow the New York Times will report that today was yesterday,'' wrote a poster calling himself Trautwein's. "It's not the sum of all fears. It simply confirms what anyone who paid attention already knew.''