THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

For Ortiz, the real test is yet to come

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By Tony Massarotti
Globe Staff / August 5, 2009

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - And on and on it goes, the story nobody really wants to talk about and everyone wants to end. The Red Sox have just begun a pivotal stretch of games, the David Ortiz saga burdening them like a ball and chain, and everyone from Santo Domingo to St. Petersburg feels the same way.

Said manager Terry Francona when asked about Ortiz, “I think we’d all like to . . .’’

“Move on?’’ it was asked.

“Well . . . yeah,’’ the skipper said prior to last night’s game between the Sox and Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.

Wouldn’t we all.

Yet here we are, five days after it was reported that Ortiz was among the 104 players who tested positive for banned substances during baseball’s provisional survey in 2003, and we don’t know a blasted thing more. Ortiz has yet to offer his side of the story.

Prior to last night’s game, more than one Sox official indicated that Ortiz might be going through the legal process to obtain information about his own test results, something Francona alluded to in vague terms during his customary pregame briefing with reporters.

“This is not David right now [holding things up],’’ Francona said. “We’re waiting. We’re all on hold.’’

Here are the questions we all need to ask: Will anything short of a full admission from Ortiz be enough to satisfy those of us who generally are cursed with cynicism? Or is he simply doomed, regardless of what happened, because there are certain things we need to hear?

We all know the problem baseball has encountered in recent years. The game got so wildly out of control that everyone’s credibility was affected. That means everyone. Rightly or wrongly, the game’s biggest stars of the last 10-15 years will have their accomplishments called into question because MLB turned into WWE. Guilt became a presumption. That is not the fault of those of us on the outside. Players, owners, executives, and union officials did this to themselves.

Ortiz may not like that reality at the moment, particularly given his place in the game. For all of the players who have been sucked into the eye of the steroid storm, he is the first one universally liked by fans, teammates, opponents, and media. (And he still is.) That is the part of this story that makes it so difficult. Just because of his popularity, Ortiz cannot be treated any differently than Roger Clemens, who, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, has never failed a drug test.

And yet, because Red Sox fans have entirely different emotions about Clemens than they do about Ortiz, rational judgment goes out the window. Clemens is a scoundrel and Ortiz is an innocent victim. How can that be? How can one of Ortiz’s very best friends in the game, Torii Hunter, express disappointment and suggest that Ortiz’s accomplishments will be tainted, but Red Sox fans cannot?

For those of us on the outside, at what point does denial become an accepted line of defense?

Understandably, Ortiz seems like a very frustrated man right now. Over the last seven seasons, he has given a great deal to the Red Sox and the New England community. Prior to last night’s game, Ortiz tactfully waved off reporters and went about the business of preparing for the game. He is not the kind to kick and scream and point fingers.

The Red Sox need to put this issue behind them, as a team, and they certainly do not need to drag it into New York this week, though that seems inevitable.

As long as Ortiz is in a Boston uniform, it will not go away. The first time he steps to the plate tomorrow night in New York, he will get the kind of reception that Alex Rodriguez received in Boston this year.

All we can hope for, at this stage, is that Ortiz does not adopt Rodriguez’s approach when it came time to answer questions and fill in the blanks. We don’t need to know merely what Ortiz tested positive for and when he used it. We need to know what else he has taken, if anything, and we need to know why.

We have yet to hear a single player stand up and tell us the complete truth, that the game was out of control, that players felt the need to keep up, that things became twisted and out of control. That the line between right and wrong did not grow fuzzy - it disappeared entirely - and the game became one muddied mass.

That they were all wrong.

When Sports Illustrated first reported earlier this year that Rodriguez was on the list of 104, the magazine also reported that he tested positive for Primobolan and testosterone. The point is that whoever leaked Ortiz’s name may very well know the substance in question, too. Before he speaks, that is something Ortiz must consider. He must also consider the possibility that there is more evidence against him, somewhere, and that he can either control the release of that information or leave it up to fate.

Last week, when news of Ortiz’s failed test leaked, he said he was surprised. Within 48 hours, the Globe’s John Powers authored a story stating that all players who tested positive in 2003 were notified of that fact by the Major League Baseball Players Association. Many of us also believe that the union warned its members of upcoming drug tests, adding yet another level of deceit and making baseball’s steroids scandal look like a full-blown conspiracy.

Now, years after the damage was done, the game has taken significant steps to clean itself up.

Still, we’re waiting for someone to fully come clean.

Tony Massarotti can be reached at tmassarotti@globe.com and can be read at www.boston.com/massarotti

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