Yesterday, David Ortiz took to the Player's Tribune to once again revisit the issue of his failed drug test from 2003. It's likely no coincidence that his piece was released on the same day as Bob Hohler's feature on the exact same subject.
It's rare that we get a chance to hear from players without having the media play middleman. Sure, there's probably some editing going on between his exact words and the ones that hit the internet, but this is at the very least Ortiz' story from Ortiz' perspective. It's not substantially different from any of his other tellings: Ortiz tested positive in 2003, which he explains was likely the result of an over-the-counter supplement containing one banned substance or another in its long list of ingredients. An error of ignorance and negligence, but unintentional none-the-less.
It's the sort of excuse that Ortiz' own teammate Dustin Pedroia has said there's no room for in the game, but things are different now than they were before. The league has made a point of driving home what is and is not allowed. There are cautionary tales enough that players will actually consider the possibility that just because it's sold at the GNC doesn't mean it's necessarily kosher by Major League Baseball's standards. Pedroia apparently even has an app to tell him what's acceptable and what's not--something which was not likely readily available back in 2003 when smartphones were terrible.
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Still, however many tests Ortiz has passed in the years since, however many times he's explained it, the sporting world is unforgiving. That's just the nature of things in a game which pits each team against 29 others, cultivating an us-vs.-them mentality where the outsiders are always the vast majority. And so Ortiz will always be labeled a cheater by some portion of baseball fans. The loudest of them are in New York, sure, but whether he's in Kansas City or Oakland or Miami, David Ortiz will always be playing half his games as an invading enemy rather than a returning hero.
But those are the fans. Shouldn't the media be better? Unfortunately for Ortiz, this is Boston. Don't get me wrong, there are some diamonds in the rough, and every town has its share of media trolls, but in few places are sportswriters so infamously poisonous as Boston. There's no escaping that, even for one of the city's greatest all-time heroes in Ortiz, who recounts one particular run-in with Dan Shaughnessy, king of the local rogues gallery:
In 2013, I came off the DL and started hot. My first 20 games I was hitting like .400. And the reporter with the red jheri curl from The Boston Globe comes into the locker room says, "You're from the Dominican. You're older. You fit the profile of a steroid user. Don't you think you're a prime suspect?"
He's saying this with a straight face. I had taken like 70 at-bats. Anybody can get hot and hit .400 with 70 at-bats. I was stunned. I'm like, I'm Dominican? I fit the profile? Are you kidding me?
I wanted to kill this guy. But you can't react. That's what they want. They want you to get angry so they can bury you.
And he's right. It's why Felger and Massarotti twisted Shane Victorino's endorsement of Cole Hamels to make him look like some kind of Machiavellian schemer pulling Ben Cherington's strings. It's why they probably high-fived when he called them out. And it's not going to change anytime soon because apparently that's still what sells.
I hold no grandiose delusions of changing that, and I have no expectation that David Ortiz will ever read my words here today. But right before he tells the story, Ortiz seems to get at what's really bothering him:
I became a great hitter because of my mental preparation. This is a thinking man's game. You can be the strongest dude alive and you're not going to be able to hit a sinker with 40,000 people screaming at you. That's what really makes me mad when I think about the way I will be remembered. They're only going to remember my power. They're not going to remember the hours and hours and hours of work in the film room. They're not going to remember the BP. They're not going to remember me for my intelligence. Despite all I've done in this game, I'm just the big DH from the Dominican. They turn you into a character, man.
That might be true of the reporter with the red jheri curl from the Boston Globe. It might be the way he wants this town to remember Ortiz, too. And, really, it might be true on some level that what we'll always remember is the power. It's the results we see on television or at the ballpark or hear on the radio. That, and whatever image of the player the media chooses to portray make up most of what we know about David Ortiz or Dustin Pedroia or Tom Brady or any of the other sports heroes this city has had throughout the years.
But at least we'll try to see past that character. We certainly won't forget the big hits in 2004, 2007, 2013, and all the years in between. David Ortiz is inextricably linked to "David Ortiz! David Ortiz! David Ortiz!" But he's also David Ortiz at the Children's Hospital, the man who declared this "our fucking city," and the man who wrote this article.
Dan Shaughnessy may want to bury David Ortiz, and when Papi visits 29 other stadiums it's a guarantee that some jackass in the stands is going to pretend that one failed test in 2003 for a substance they won't even reveal to Ortiz somehow invalidates an incredible legacy built over a decade backed by dozens of clean tests.There's probably even a couple of Shaughnessy devotees who feel the same way in Fenway on any given day.
Screw them. The other 37,398 and however many millions more of us at home will drown them out. This is David Ortiz' town, not Dan Shaughnessy's.