Friday, March 27, 2015

Fact-checking David Ortiz's PED-denial column in the Players' Tribune

David Ortiz in his younger, smaller days.
Speak of the devil! I was just talking about David (Sherlock) Ortiz with my friend Staci on Facebook yesterday, We brought up his name because of ESPN New York noting that Alex Rodriguez now faces additional steroid tests. And just after we made the inevitable Ortiz "searching for why he tested positive" joke that many Yankee fans do, Sherlock finally addressed this issue, six years after it was revealed he tested positive for PEDs.

Ortiz is now an "Editor at Large" for Derek Jeter's Players' Tribune, and has "written" an article denying that he ever used PEDs.

An aside: I kind of find Jeter calling these athletes writing for his site "editors" and "bureau chiefs" a little weird. Players' Tribune contributor Mets pitcher Matt Harvey revealed in New York Magazine that he has business cards from the venture that say "NEW YORK BUREAU CHIEF." Really? Is Matt going to be assigning stories in the locker room, too? Marking up Juan Lagares' copy with a red pencil? Puh-lease.

Look, I make it a point of never saying "we" when it comes to the Yankees, because I ain't playing. So for athletes to be given such lofty titles for their contributions here would be like calling me a right fielder because I got stuck at that position in fifth grade gym glass.

Anyhow, I have a long memory when it comes to David Ortiz's PED denials. Plus, I wrote a lot on the issue back in 2009, when it was revealed that he tested positive in 2003. Anyhow, let's review Ortiz's claims in this article and see if they add up:

Ortiz starts his piece with a dramatic story of American drug testers showing up at his home at 7:30 in the morning in the Dominican Republic with "pee cups and big needles." He claims he has been tested "more than 80 times" for PEDs since 2004, and also says he has been tested "ten times a season" this whole time. His math doesn't add up in multiple ways (10x a year since 2004 is 110 times, not 80) and also because in 2009, he claimed he was tested "15 times" by MLB since 2003.

Incidentally, in the article I referenced above, ESPN claimed that in addition to everyone getting tested during the spring, there are only 350 random urine tests and 140 random blood tests done during each season, which, if those numbers are correct, would only cover a fraction of the 1200 players tested under the system. But we are supposed to believe that only Ortiz had been tested this many times? Really? C'mon now.

He also says, "I have never failed a single one of those tests and I never will." I say, "Neither did Alex Rodriguez and most of the players named in the Biogenesis scandal." (A-Rod reportedly told the feds he passed because he used midstream urine. If that actually works, then these tests are pretty meaningless!)

Ortiz then sez: "Some people still look at me like I’m a cheater because my name was on a list of players who got flagged for PEDs in 2003." (I want to put on my "Bette Davis in 'What Ever Happened to Baby Jane" voice to say, "But ya are, Blanche!")

Anyhow, after how talking about how much physical pain ballplayers are in (which I'm sure they are, but PEDs aren't painkillers!) Ortiz uses the "GNC" defense on his positive test, saying that in the early 2000s:
"I’m buying an over-the-f***ing-counter supplement in the United States of America. I’m buying this stuff in line next to doctors and lawyers. Now all of a sudden MLB comes out and says there’s some ingredient in GNC pills that have a form of steroid in them. I don’t know anything about it. If you think I’m full of it, go to your kitchen cabinet right now and read the back of a supplement bottle and honestly tell me you know what all of that stuff is. I’m not driving across the border to Mexico buying some shady pills from a drug dealer. I’m in a strip mall across from the Dunkin’ Donuts, bro."
However, contrary to his emphasis of buying the supplements in the U.S. at the friendly neighborhood GNC, Ortiz admitted in 2009 to buying some of those supplements in the Dominican Republic, where what is available over the counter is more loosey-goosey, to use an A-Rod-ism, than in the U.S. Ortiz also said then, "I definitely was a little bit careless back in those days when I was buying supplements and vitamins over the counter." Which made no sense -- why would you not pay attention to see what the stuff you took did, if for no other reason than to see if they worked?

He also doesn't mention Angel Presinal, the Dominican-born trainer who worked with both A-Rod and Ortiz, and who was banned from all MLB clubhouses after being linked to PEDs.

One of  my truisms in life is that those who are criticized the least overreact the most about it. And this whole piece seems to be a huge overreaction on Ortiz's part to mild criticism. As my friend Sully sez, the only MLB star who has gotten as much of a pass on the PED label than Andy Pettitte is Ortiz. So I don't know why he would bring this up now.

As those of us who have been paying attention in the last few years have noticed, Ortiz can be incredibly thin-skinned and self-absorbed -- a far cry from his lovable image. He whines a lot in this article, complaining about how people don't realize how hard he worked at hitting, griping about others not liking him pimping home runs -- and justifying it because he grew up poor in the Dominican Republic.

He plays up the racial angle about Dan Shaughnessy (the reporter with the red Jheri curls he refers to in the article) questioning him about PEDs in 2013; the actual conversation that they had was significantly different than the way he disparagingly describes it, with Shaughnessy making more concrete points -- that Ortiz has had injuries typical of those using PEDs and had quicker bat speed when getting older -- than he is described as doing.

Then Ortiz claims this is how he found out that he was on that failed test list:
I’ll never forget coming into the clubhouse before a day game against Oakland in 2009 when a reporter came up to me and said, “Hey, you know your name is about to be on a list of steroid users on ESPN?” I literally said, “Ha!” and walked away. God’s honest truth: I thought he was messing with me. About 30 minutes later, I’m getting dressed when I see my face pop up on the TV. I see “Failed Test. 2003.” No one had ever told me I’d failed any test.
Except The New York Times, not ESPN, broke the story. And Michael S. Schmidt, the reporter  on the case, talked to Ortiz before publishing the article, and Ortiz told him "I'm not talking about that anymore," a curious reaction from somebody who claims to have been blindsided by this news.

Also, Ortiz makes no mention in this article of the fact that the MLB players' union informed all the players who tested positive of this fact in 2004. So he knew about this back then, contrary to this dramatic story above.

At any rate, by doing this article, Ortiz is giving reporters a chance to bring this up all over again. There is already a perception among Yankee fans that A-Rod served his time for breaking the rules, while Ortiz had never been held accountable. This article certainly feeds into that perception. I think Big Papi made a big mistake in writing this.

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