David Ortiz is a remarkable baseball player. No, he can't run well, field a position or throw. His strength, in the literal and figurative sense, lies in his ability to hit a baseball with extreme force.
Years ago, the most remarkable thing about his career was a rise to prominence after years spent languishing in the Minnesota Twins system. Now, a day after his 27-game hitting streak came to an end, the latest chapter of his career has become even more remarkable.
Over the last two seasons, he's been as good a hitter, if not a better one, than he was during his prime.
From 2005-2007, between the ages of 29 and 31 and on the heels of the 2004 postseason that made him a star, Ortiz posted an average OPS+ of over 163. Since the start of the 2011 season, Ortiz's OPS+ average has been nearly identical. With those seasons coming at the ages of 36 and 37, folks start to ask questions.
In Wednesday's edition of the Boston Globe, legendary columnist Dan Shaughnessy took the voice of the fans to Ortiz, questioning how he's returned to hit so well, wondering what changed since his decline in 2009 and describing how unnatural it is for a baseball player to age this well into his late-30s:
I went to Ortiz Tuesday afternoon in the Sox clubhouse and put some hard questions to him. I told him he looks dirty.
Did he hear the fans in Toronto chanting, “Steroids!’’?
“No, not really,” said Ortiz. “Why?’’
Because what you are doing looks too good to be true.
On the surface, Shaughnessy is right—it is strange.
Ortiz has become one of the most interesting hitters of a generation, effectively having three different careers in one: Miscast, undervalued in Minnesota; toast of Boston through his prime and nearly cast off as he declined; and now the current incarnation, chasing down Edgar Martinez for the title of best designated hitter of all time.
Of course, the allegations and questions are furthered by Ortiz's inclusion on the 2003 positive test list for steroids. We weren't supposed to ever know the names on there, but we do now. A dark cloud will always hang over Ortiz's past.
But what about his present and future?
At this point, the vitriol surrounding steroid use is a broken record. The game is undoubtedly cleaner than it was a decade ago, but cheaters can always find a way. Spending hours debating the topic of who is or isn't on the "juice" is a fruitless effort.
Testing is in place with both urine and blood samples. As Ortiz referenced in his terse answers to The Globe, he's been tested multiple times:
They test me all the time. They make you pee and they test your blood, too. This year I would say I’ve probably been tested five times, peeing. Blood, just once. That was in spring training. They don’t warn you. They just show up.
Until Ortiz fails a test, which, considering his clean record since the "anonymous" testing, is an unlikely scenario, he deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Baseball fans and writers, especially those who remember the cleaner days of baseball, will always do their best to make the game clean, single out those who are perceived cheaters and look for justice.
In this case, Shaughnessy's speculation is unwarranted.
Ortiz is hitting the ball at a remarkable level. PEDs or not, there's a legitimate Hall of Fame conversation to be had about his career as a DH in the aftermath of his retirement.
Without the aid of his legs, arm or glove, Ortiz has racked up a career 40.5 WAR. Considering the way he's hitting, the idea of his bat providing another 10 wins of value between now and the end of his career isn't a big leap.
If he can reach 50 WAR for his career, Ortiz would finish as a more valuable regular-season player than Darryl Strawberry, Don Mattingly, Jack Morris, Carlos Delgado, Lou Brock, Devon White, Sandy Koufax and Fred Lynn. And that's not even considering his postseason contributions for Boston.
As the Red Sox try to make a worst-to-first leap in 2013, Ortiz's impact and play in the history of the game should be the story. Accusing him of cheating won't change the reality of his play on the field or the direction of the sport.
Siding with contrived controversy takes away from the game of baseball. Until he fails a test, "Big Papi" deserves the support of the baseball-viewing public.
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