The most recent chapter in the baseball steroid scandal has produced a rare flat denial. David Ortiz has told us he did not take steroids. Do you believe him?
It is true that Roger Clemens also denied taking injections, but his denial runs up against an accuser and apparently some demonstrative evidence -- conveniently stored syringes with the potential of a DNA fingerprint. That soap opera has apparently gone on summer hiatus, but Big Papi's time of trial is now and, unlike the Rocket, he is still on the active roster. (Some Red Sox fans may question whether Papi is still active. He is having a dreadful season. As the Sox swoon in August, Papi has done nothing to take the fans minds off the accusation.)
Many folks have already made up their minds about Ortiz and the other sluggers of the game. He is just another cheater whose perfidy is now disclosed for all to see. Others are equally certain that the greatest modern clutch hitter with the terrific smile and pleasant demeanor must have been falsely accused. Both cannot be right, but neither cares.
How do you decide whether he is telling the truth? The information about the 2003 testing has become more unreliable with time. The Players Association's Mike Weiner explained this past weekend that not everyone on the list actually tested positive. False-positive results are not unusual in the drug-testing business. Unlike some attorneys connected to the BALCO case, Weiner says that the union will abide by the court order to keep these matters confidential. To release the names would be a violation of law. The union is in a box. It cannot say anything more in a situation where the failure to say more creates a negative inference that its members are guilty even before being charged!
Finding out what actually happened in 2003 is difficult. When Ortiz told us he used all kinds of supplements with unknown ingredients, he was just trying to offer his public a possible explanation. A simple "I didn't do it, period," would require those inclined to wait for some proof to rely on simple faith in the big left-handed hitter. The admitted behavior of some his fellow Major Leaguers shows that blind faith only goes so far.
Ortiz brings to this controversy years of accumulated good will. While Alex Rodriquez had prior discrepant events (Madonna?), Big Papi was just a big teddy bear, beloved by The Red Sox Nation. Reputation can only go far, however. It cannot disprove allegations. Is it possible Ortiz could have used "the stuff?" Sure. Is it likely? Hard to say.
The thing that is most frustrating about this entire over-long controversy is that except for a few admissions of guilt, we have nothing. The Mitchell Report was more allegation than proof. No court or arbitrator has actually adjudicated these matters. No one has been proven guilty by even a preponderance of evidence, let alone beyond a reasonable doubt.
Baseball has always served as a mirror of American life. That does not excuse its imperfections, only explain them. While the steroid era has consumed commentators, bloggers and the media, the game has gone on virtually unchanged, except the players have to regularly pee in a cup. Some will never be satisfied that the game is clean, but they will still go out to the ballpark. If America only needed to worry about baseball cheaters and not unemployment, wars, and health care, this would be an easier life.