David Ortiz and the Unfair Shadow of Steroids

David Ortiz is probably not on steroids. But in modern baseball, don't you have to wonder?

Ortiz will turn 41 a couple weeks after the World Series, and he's the best hitter in Major League Baseball, with a 184 wRC+. As of Independence Day, Ortiz was batting .338 / .434 / .677, with a league-leading 65 RBI. He has more walks than strikeouts, he's within striking distance of the home run lead, and he's even stolen two bases, with no caught stealing. It's a brilliant offensive season.

Seeing athletes defy age is one of the true joys in sport. Ultimately, I think the greatest appeal of any sport is the possibility of seeing the improbable — even what might have been dismissed as impossible — come true. It's the triumph of the human spirit, overcoming incredible adversity to accomplish great things. We should be celebrating David Ortiz. But in 2016, whenever an aging athlete excels as Ortiz is doing, doesn't part of you wonder about performance-enhancing drugs?

I want to be crystal clear: I am not accusing David Ortiz of using PEDs. Other than his exceptional performance, I have no reason to suspect him of PED use. He's never faced discipline for PED use, and he's never been implicated by anyone in the game. If someone asked my opinion, I believe he's not on PEDs.

But this is one more reason to hate the Steroid Era. Achievements like Ortiz's are preemptively tainted by our ideas about steroids and what they can do for aging athletes. The athletes who abused their bodies and broke the law for a competitive advantage tainted not only their own performances, but also cast a shadow over the sports landscape, bringing suspicion to every exceptional athlete, especially power hitters (like Ortiz) and aging superstars (like Ortiz). The power brokers who looked the other way while their sports succumbed to rampant PED use — and MLB in particular buried its head in the sand for many years — are similarly to blame.

If you do an internet search for David Ortiz, one of the first suggestions is "David Ortiz steroids". Ortiz's name did allegedly appear on the infamous list of potential PED users from spring training of 2003, but he has denied using performance-enhancing drugs, and I'm not aware that anyone has ever leveled another credible accusation of PED usage against him. Baseball has been testing for steroids for a decade, and Ortiz has never had a problem.

It's not just David Ortiz. He's an obvious example, because [1] he's playing at an extremely high level at an age when most players are retired, and [2] the presence of PEDs looms over baseball more than any other sport, barring perhaps track and field. There are retired players, like Jeff Bagwell, who have been undeservingly kept out of Cooperstown simply because they played in the late '90s and early '00s and hit home runs. There are players in other sports, like two-time Tour De France champion Chris Froome, whose achievements are questioned mostly because of the men and women who came before them. On last year's Tour, a spectator accused Froome of doping and threw a cup of urine in his face during a race.

Steroid users didn't just taint their own careers and harm their own bodies. Their misdeeds cast a pall over the entire sporting landscape, overshadowing the great achievements of the innocent as well as the guilty. While PEDs still play a role in MLB, there's a broad consensus that the "Steroid Era" is over; the game is no longer defined by and dominated by PED users. But the negative associations of performance-enhancing drugs continue to impact our perceptions of athletes, limiting or destroying the joy of seeing a 40-year-old Big Papi win his battle against Father Time. It's a terrible shame.

Comments and Conversation

July 7, 2016


You never know, but logic dictates Ortiz is using PEDs. 1) He was already shown in the Mitchell Report 2) All sports including Olympics hardly catch but a fraction of users (that is much of a fact as evolution if you study both subjects). Any informed individual about testing procedures know how easy it is to beat the test. 3) You expect me to believe anyone especially a known user of a positive PED test is having his best season over 40 is absurd. ABSURD!

For the record, I claimed Lance Armstrong was cheating for years. I was told I was an idiot because he had been tested hundreds of times. Again, these test are so easy to beat. The NFL testing policy is even easier.

Sorry man, I appreciate the hope of players being clean and love of the game. I have that in me too, but I’m a realist at the same time. There are other guys I suspect as well even on my own beloved Dodgers. Even, the very lean Dee Gordon fooled most of us.

July 7, 2016

Brad Oremland:

Maybe you’re right. But it sucks that we now *assume* overachieving older athletes are on PEDs.

July 11, 2016


If it walks like a duck..
Seriously, are you telling me a 40 year old that is out hitting every player in all of MLB isn’t juicing?
Are you telling me a 40 year old has better eyesight, reflexes, and hand-eye coordination than all the Trouts, Machados, and Harpers near their prime?
Are you telling me that the skinny kid that was almost out of MLB in Minnesota, just worked out extra hard to turn into a perennial MVP since going to Boston and doubling his body weight?
Are you telling me someone, in addition of all the above, who has also shown signs over the years of roid rage (destroying phones for example) isn’t juicing?
I am not trying to figure out if Ortiz is cheating, I only had to take my rose colored glasses off.
I am just trying to figure out how gullible people are and how far they are willing to look the other way so that they have a dreamy good feeling about baseball again.
And people wonder why other players start juicing.
Why shouldn’t they?

July 12, 2016


Of course he is on roids. A 40 year old fat out of shape guy having a career year = roids. BTW, he’s been busted for steroids before. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. This guy is a disgrace and I could care less what the gullible have to say about him.

July 14, 2016

Jonah Falcon:

David Ortiz’s defense? He never broke the laws of the US nor the Dominican Republic.

Steroids are legal in the DR.

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