BOSTON (CBS) — David Ortiz is right about a couple of things: first, no one is going to believe him, me included. Second, it doesn’t really matter, at least as far as I’m concerned.
In my mind, he’s a Hall of Famer. Five years after Ortiz retires, he’ll get my vote. But I can’t speak for anyone else.
Hours after Shane Victorino went off on me and my radio partner yesterday, The Players’ Tribune posted a column by Ortiz addressing a number of issues. Ortiz spent much of the time defending his reputation and said he has never “knowingly” taken steroids, going so far as to say that he has passed as many as 80 drug tests for performance-enhancing substances during his time with the Red Sox.
Do I believe Ortiz has been tested that many times? Sure, though he’s probably exaggerating. But again, it doesn’t really matter. Whether Ortiz passed eight tests or 80, the simple truth remains. Baseball became the Wild West during the steroids era, and so everyone in the game lost a large measure of credibility.
Users know how to pass tests. The cheaters are always a step ahead of the testers. That is never going to change.
For Ortiz, here’s the real problem: Major League Baseball has offered no guidelines for Hall of Fame candidacy – I suspect this is at the core of Ortiz’ concerns – and those who govern the game don’t want to. MLB understands how sticky the situation is and would rather dump the problem on the baseball writers who serve as voters. A good many voters treat even suspected steroid users as pariahs – and that is certainly within their right – but there is simply no way for us to know who did and who did not use.
As for the numbers that once served as decent boundaries for the Hall, the steroid era contaminated them. They don’t mean anything anymore. So if we’re judging players purely on their ability – and not on some morals clause – all we’re left with is the most subjective of subjective assessments.
Me? I believe that Barry Bonds was a great player, steroids or no steroids. If you ask me how I know, I don’t. But in an election, my job is to express my opinion. I would say the same for Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez, among others. I think they all had freakish ability, and I mean that as a compliment.
Sammy Sosa? Dumb player. Mark McGwire? Softball player. And if you ask me what distinguishes those guys from the players whom I do vote for, I’d have only one answer for you: my gut.
In the case of Ortiz, he needs to stop taking the steroids allegations so personally. Thanks to the actions of major league owners, players, executives, fans and media – did I leave anyone out? – the game went off the rails. Nobody has credibility. Among all those parties, the only one Ortiz should scrutinize is the MLB players union that resisted testing even after then-commissioner Bud Selig tried to implement a program. The union chose to protect the guilty and sacrifice the innocent, and guys like Ortiz are the ones who may pay the ultimate price.
But I’ll say it again: He’ll get my vote if for no other reason that he is the best designated hitter who has ever lived. Up until now, I have voted for Edgar Martinez for the same reason. In my mind, baseball writers have long discriminated against the DH because, you know, they don’t play the field. Never mind that the DH has been in existence for nearly a half-century now.
But then, baseball always has been far too eager to hold onto its past, citing a respect for tradition, when the truth is that the game hasn’t evolved.
In this market, many of you know I covered the Red Sox closely for about 15 years, from the early 1990s until about 2009. I was fortunate enough to have a good relationship with Ortiz and to help him with his book, “Big Papi.” Since that time, for lots of reasons, I’ve made the move to talk radio. It’s a very different job, with very different demands, and invites me to express my opinion. Along the way, I’ve disagreed with many things Ortiz has said or done, supported others. I haven’t talked to him in quite some time – years, really – and I have no doubt he’s been rather agitated with some of the things I’ve said or done.
Honestly, I can’t say I blame him. We’re all human. I don’t think he’s perfect, either. But I’ve never had anything but respect for his ability to perform in the clutch – I’d take him over Reggie Jackson in October seven days a week and twice on Sunday – and I have always found him to be a generally warm, engaging and good-natured soul.
Sometimes I agree with Ortiz, sometimes I don’t.
But as we learned again today, he has never, ever been afraid to bare his soul.