It’s been seven years now since certain names leaked from the 2003 steroid test that, essentially, was meant to determine if baseball had a problem. Among those names were Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa and, of course, David Ortiz.
The positive test has always been a bit of an oddity. It’s not that it hasn’t stuck, exactly. It’s always been a key “talking point” for his detractors (read: things they put on signs and shout at him along with four-letter words) and comes up in any Hall of Fame discussion.
But it hasn’t stuck nearly the way it has for others. Ortiz is still one of baseball’s most beloved figures, and no failed test stopped the teams of the league from giving him a country-spanning farewell tour. Part of that is because the list was never supposed to come out, part of that is because Ortiz has never tested positive again, part of that is (perhaps unfairly) because of his winning personality, and part of that is because the league did a lot more to defend Ortiz than it did anyone else, and now they’re doing so again. From Alex Speier and the Boston Globe, Rob Manfred issues the latest defense:
“I think that the feeling was, at the time that name was leaked, that it was important to make people understand that even if your name was on that list, that it was entirely possible that you were not a positive,” said Rob Manfred. “I do know that he’s never been a positive at any point under our program.”
“There were legitimate scientific questions about whether or not those were truly positives. If in fact there were test results like that today on a player, and we tried to discipline them, there’d be a grievance over it, it would be vetted, tried, resolved,” said Manfred. “We didn’t do that. Those issues and ambiguities were never resolved because we knew they didn’t matter.
That first line from Manfred is likely referring in part to the statement the league released after Ortiz’ name leaked stating that the government list (from which the leak came) of positives was longer than the list the league had produced by some eight names. That’s one name in 13 that doesn’t show up on the MLB list. The curious thing was that it was only when Ortiz’ name came out that they moved to, effectively, protect him.
You can draw any number of conclusions from this. You could say the league was trying to protect one of their more marketable properties. You could cry conspiracy and Red Sox favoritism. Or you could see this as the league trying to get the word out that Ortiz wasn’t on their list or that his test in particular was suspect for one reason or another. Complicating everything are court orders which have basically forbidden both the league and union from releasing specifics.
Whether the league is trying to protect a marketable commodity, an innocent man, or simply acting in the interest of fairness, Manfred has made it clear that their position is that Ortiz’ 2003 test should not be given much credit when it comes without due process. He even made the statement directly to Hall of Fame voters. Reading the atmosphere of the room, as it were, it feels like that message may have already been understood. But I guess we’ll find out in five years.