Want to know just how bad things have gotten with David Ortiz? On Tuesday night, I was at dinner with some friends and NESN (the network that carries Red Sox games) was showing Walk Off Sox, which should leave no questions about how the show might end. But there we were, watching the bottom of the ninth of a 2005 game against Baltimore, with Ortiz at the plate, two runners on base, two outs and only three possible outcomes…
- Ortiz could strikeout to end the game. Of course, that would mean that NESN would have to be willing to show the Sox lose on a show called Walk Off Sox.
- Ortiz could reach base without driving in the winning run, which would leave it to Manny Ramirez to hit the game winner – an even less likely scenario considering Manny is the anti-Christ in New England.
- Ortiz could in fact walk off, helping us all to conjure up memories of the days when he was actually better than Jason Varitek.
I’m not kidding when I tell you we had to watch just to make sure Ortiz really was a great hitter at some point in his career. And we had to watch the replay just to be sure that the homerun he hit over the center field fence at Fenway didn’t somehow magically become your typical 2009 outcome for Ortiz: a popup to shallow center.
That’s how bad it has gotten for Ortiz. Everything is questionable at this point. Which is why I think baseball fans have every right to be asking the question no one in New England wants to hear: Was David Ortiz a steroid user? Was his dramatic power surge earlier this decade simply the byproduct of a needle and is the fact that he couldn’t break a lineup at the College Softball World Series the result of him being off the juice?
We don’t know the answer to that question and even if we had a leaky syringe with Papi DNA, he’d still deny everything. But it doesn’t make us wrong for asking and it doesn’t mean we’re evil or un-American for refusing to simply take his word.
Last week, Bill Reynolds of the Providence Journal suggested it was unfair that Ortiz’s embarrassing season has lead to talk of performance-enhancing drugs, but conceded that this is what happens in baseball’s current landscape. He wrote that Ortiz is wearing baseball’s Scarlet Letter and that we wouldn’t believe it even if he had somehow just lost it.
But the idea that Ortiz might have been cheating isn’t as impossible as Reynolds wants to believe. It’s not just the fact that in his first 1,693 at-bats, he hit 58 homeruns, and then he nearly doubled that total in his next 1,693 at-bats that suggests something a bit out of the ordinary was occurring. It’s also that his closest friend on the Red Sox was Manny Ramirez, who we now know was either on the juice or trying to find out if he’d be allowed to go on maternity leave.
And Ortiz isn’t just guilty by his association with Manny. What about his friendship with Angel Presinal, who occasionally trained with Ortiz despite being banned from every Major League clubhouse since 2001? We now know Presinal’s clients included Alex Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez and Jose Guillen, all of whom have been connected to steroids.
Would any of this hold up in court? Of course not. But this isn’t just some witch hunt either.
Ortiz’s numbers, both then and now, coupled with his association with known steroid users and providers certainly inject some validity into the argument.