Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz was walking through the Rogers Centre hours before Tuesday’s game, saying hello to some ushers seated on a concrete slab, bumping fists with the attendants outside the Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse, chatting and laughing – until the subject of conversation turned to Albert Pujols and performance-enhancing drugs.
His expression turned to a scowl.
Last week, on his WGNU 920 radio show, Jack Clark, former player and St. Louis Cardinals hitting instructor, accused the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim first baseman of using steroids when he played in St. Louis.
Pujols is suing. Clark got fired.
“You have that in the city where this guy built up his legacy? You don’t ruin it just like that,” Oritz said before Tuesday’s game against the Blue Jays. “It pissed me off because I know Pujols. He is one of the most natural talented players in the game right now. … You don’t ruin a guy like that because you want to get a … show famous and if you do, that’s wrong and God will chase you at some point. That is wrong. I don’t care what anybody say. That is wrong.”
These days, players are more hypersensitive to accusations being tossed into the public arena without proof.
In 2009, Ortiz’s name was included among 104 baseball players alleged to have tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003.
“I went through that in 2009, when they say I was on that list, and nobody ever explained to me what’s going on,” said Ortiz, who reached base four times on Tuesday, with a pair of walks, a single and a double hit high off the centre field wall with one out in the 10th inning against Casey Janssen. “And I live with that until today. That’s totally wrong.”
In May, when the Red Sox made their second visit to Toronto, some fans chanted “steroids” when Ortiz came to the plate. Having missed spring training and the first 15 games with an Achilles injury, at 37, he returned to the lineup by hitting safely in 15 consecutive games, belting four homers and driving in 17 runs.
Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy suggested to him, and in a published column, that PEDs had to be at the root of such success in the latter stage of a baseball career.
Ortiz protested. He hasn’t sued.
In the wake of the column, he told ESPN Deportes: “When you see the writing, it basically focuses on the fact that I’m Dominican and that many Dominicans have been caught using steroids. And what about the Americans? … If you are a white American, I have to call you a racist because white Americans were in the Ku Klux Klan?”
Last week, 12 players accepted 50-game doping suspensions in the Biogenesis clinic scandal. All but Ryan Braun were Hispanic; eight were Dominican.
New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, of Dominican heritage, is appealing his 211-game suspension.
Ortiz understands the stigma is being attached, but “people shouldn’t see it that way,” he said Tuesday. “Because Dominican players, we are hundreds and hundreds, not just 12. Because they caught some players using PEDs, that means everybody is using it? No. That’s wrong. Everybody makes a choice.”
The argument has been made that impoverished young Dominicans will turn to steroids as a way off the Caribbean island. Ortiz rejects it.
He says educational programs have made young players aware of PEDs punishments, and they are tested before signing contracts. Further, he pointed out the players suspended last week “were already making money … they didn’t walk into that without knowing. They knew exactly what they did.”
Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes, a fellow Dominican and friend of Ortiz, attributes Ortiz’s sustained prowess to his approach at the plate – look for a pitch, don’t miss it, learn to hit lefties.
Ortiz entered Tuesday with a .326 average, 22 homers and 74 RBIs.
“You have to know what is bad for you and what is going to get you in trouble,” Reyes said, likewise rejecting the stereotype. “Everybody’s his own man.”
Pujols signed a 10-year, $240-million (U.S.) contract with the Angels prior to the 2012 season.
Talking on New York radio, his teammate, Mike Trout, endorsed a zero-tolerance policy – one positive, lifetime ban. When the Clark news broke thereafter, Trout went silent.
“The game is slowly going to cleaned up,” Ortiz said. “What MLB is trying to do, should have been done better. But it will get there. If you’re two years out of baseball, you’re done. But it will get better.”