When news leaked out during the 2009 season that David Ortiz had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs back in 2003, many believed that it was the deathblow for a career that was starting to hit the skids. Although Ortiz denied the allegations, saying in a written statement, "Based on the way I have lived my life, I am surprised to learn I tested positive," it was generally assumed that in all probability he had juiced, if for no other reason than his close friend and former teammate Manny Ramirez had served a suspension for a positive test earlier in the season. The goodwill that Ortiz had built up in Boston for more than half a decade seemed like it might be eroding... fast.
After amassing 136 home runs, 402 runs batted in, 332 walks and hitting .306 during the 2005-2007 seasons, Ortiz struggled badly in 2008 and those struggles had only continued into 2009. Whether it was age (Ortiz was "33" at the time), being off PEDs, or a combination of the two, there was little question that Ortiz looked like a shell of himself during the 2009 season. After finishing the year with the worst numbers of his Red Sox career, including an anemic .238 average and a hollow .332 on-base-percentage, it seemed that his days in Boston might be coming to an end.
That notion was only further re-enforced by an extremely rocky start to the 2010 campaign during which Ortiz lashed out against reporters and was even benched for another struggling veteran, Mike Lowell. His confidence clearly shaken, Ortiz sounded like a beaten man during late April of that year. "It's gotten to the point where people believe you can't do it anymore,'' he said. "On the other hand, if you don't do so good, that gives people the right to do what they feel like.'' However Ortiz began to bounce back during May, totaling 10 homers, 27 RBI and raising his average to .272. Ortiz produced nicely for the rest of the year, was an All-Star and ended up with numbers that were good enough to earn him a one-year contract extension from the Red Sox for 2011.
Although his power numbers dipped slightly in 2011, a slimmer, sleeker Ortiz batted over .300 for the first time since 2007 and generally seemed to put the plate problems that had plagued him for parts of the previous three seasons behind him. He was an All-Star once again and with the market for designated hitters shrinking rapidly, Ortiz believed that he deserved a two-year contract to keep him in Boston through 2013. The Red Sox didn't agree and instead brought back Ortiz on yet another one-year deal. With the way Ortiz has been hitting so far in 2012, it looks the Red Sox are going to wish they had inked him for longer.
Through 71 games played, Ortiz was leading the Red Sox in almost every offensive category, including batting average, home runs, RBI and runs scored. He is on pace for his seventh season with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI and has a chance to hit at least .300 in back-to-back seasons for just the second time in his career. Ortiz has unquestionably been the Red Sox best and most consistent hitter in 2012 and his resurgence has helped to pick up some of the slack that slow starts from Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez have created.
The longest-tenured Red Sox on the team at this point, Ortiz is the only remaining member of the curse-breaking 2004 World Series winning team following Sunday's trade of Kevin Youkilis. Even during his struggles, Ortiz remained a fan favorite and there is little doubt that if he continues to play the way he has this season, the Red Sox will have no choice but to bring him back. Although his career numbers aren't up there with the all-time greats, there is an outside chance that he could be voted into the Hall of Fame if he can continue to be productive for a few more seasons.
During a time when most older players who were linked to PEDs are falling apart (Ramirez comes to mind), Ortiz is having his best season in years and is showing little sign of slowing down anytime soon. Certainly when news of his positive PED test surfaced in 2009 and he struggled so mightily, predicting that Ortiz would re-establish himself as a dominant hitter three years later in 2012 would have been laughable. However, as he has before (and probably will again during the offseason when the Red Sox are forced to give him a raise in order to retain his services), Ortiz will get the last laugh. At age 36 and playing like he's playing, he's earned it.