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Ortiz has strong words for steroid users

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / February 17, 2009
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FORT MYERS, Fla. - For days, it seemed the only images on TV - whether on ESPN, CNN, or network news - were of Alex Rodriguez confessing his sins. He admitted that, yes, he had used steroids earlier in his career. The consensus best player in the game said he had taken performance-enhancing drugs, drowning out all the news across baseball of players reporting to spring training camps in Florida and Arizona.

So, again, in addition to being asked about their offseason programs and readiness for the 2009 season, players are faced with questions about steroids. To David Ortiz, it's more than enough.

"This game has been hurt a lot already," Ortiz said yesterday. "And I don't think this game can take any more."

Not only did Ortiz come out strongly against steroid use, but he advocated harsher testing policies and harsher penalties. Ortiz said that testing should not be random, and that every player should be tested three to four times per year. And if those players test positive? "Bang them for the whole year," he said.

Currently, the penalty for testing positive is 50 games for the first offense, 100 games for the second offense, then a lifetime ban.

"I think you clean up the game by the testing," Ortiz said. "I test you, you test positive, you're going to be out. Serious. I know that if I test positive for using any kind of substance, I know that I'm going to disrespect my family, the game, the fans, and everybody. I don't want to be facing that situation, so what I will do, I won't use."

Asked if he would consent to blood tests, which are currently the only reliable way to test for human growth hormone, Ortiz said, "I don't care. Whatever. I just want to go out there and make sure that people aren't looking at you like, 'Oh look at this guy, he's big now. What is going on?'

"There's a lot of guys here that they work, they work hard, and I'm pretty sure that all the way around the league guys want to come and put up some numbers the way they [can]."

But it wasn't only about the future, one that Ortiz envisions without the taint of steroids, without fans looking at players and asking themselves whether this or that guy might have done something wrong. It was also about the past. Ortiz was vehement that players who used steroids should not be subject to criminal proceedings. This was said in the wake of Miguel Tejada's guilty plea last week for lying to investigators about his knowledge of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.

"There's a lot of players that have been in federal court being judged like they just killed somebody or they robbed somebody," Ortiz said. "I don't think all that is supposed to be happening.

"If you admitted that you used the stuff, boom, don't use it anymore. You know it's not good for you. You know it's not good for the game, and let's move on.

"But all that, all the drama, bringing guys to court and acting like those [are] serious criminals, it doesn't look good for the game."

He would rather fix things without hurting the game, he said. Using his teammate, Dustin Pedroia, as an example, Ortiz wondered whether people might think Pedroia was using after posting MVP numbers in 2008.

"It's going to be in some people's minds," Ortiz said. "Is this guy playing clean?"

Ortiz isn't the only person to push stronger penalties lately for those caught using performance enhancers. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen told reporters Sunday that players who test positive deserve a year-long ban. He later said they should be banned for life.

While Ortiz didn't go that far - and made sure to give credit to Rodriguez for talking about his steroid use - the Sox designated hitter was adamant in his view that something needs to be done to restore baseball to its rightful place in the esteem of fans.

"We're going through a tough situation all the way around, the economy, our soldiers fighting in Iraq, and this game is a distraction for people, for the families, for the American families," Ortiz said. "I would like to see some changes.

"I would like people to leave this game alone, and just let us play the game. I mean guys like myself, I will do whatever it takes to make this game get better, but not everybody's on the same page."

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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