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Dan Shaughnessy

Almost a clean getaway

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / August 9, 2009

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NEW YORK - You will believe what you want to believe. And most Red Sox fans are going to believe David Ortiz has always been clean.

Beloved Big Papi, the greatest clutch hitter in Red Sox history, was contrite and convincing yesterday when he took the national stage in an effort to clear his name. Ortiz told us he has never used steroids. He said he was “a little careless’’ when he bought supplements and vitamins over the counter in the United States and the Dominican Republic. He apologized to Sox fans, owners, players, and manager Terry Francona for the distraction in the wake of his name being leaked as one of the major leaguers who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003.

Michael Weiner, director of the Players Association, sat alongside Ortiz and did his best to raise doubt about the assumption that players whose names appeared on the list are confirmed cheats.

The PA isn’t disputing that Ortiz is on the list. But it contends that a number of players whose names are on the list were clean. A press release issued by the PA states, “The presence of a player’s name on any such list does not necessarily mean that the player used a prohibited substance or that the player tested positive under our collectively bargained program.’’

Major League Baseball’s statement adds, “The names on the list . . . are subject to uncertainties with regard to the test results.’’

If you want to believe Ortiz, that’s all you need. Same goes for those who believe Sammy Sosa and Manny Rami rez (also leaked as names on the list) were clean in 2003. The PA has basically cleared the path for any (2003 list) player who is named in the future. Just say you are one of the guys who tested positive for an over-the-counter supplement. Or say there’s a discrepancy regarding the interpretation of your result. Or say nothing at all. The folks who love you are still going to love you. And the ones who root for your rivals are going to say you were dirty.

Roger Clemens has never failed a drug test. But fans hate the guy. So he’s a cheater. Barry Bonds is a pariah. So we don’t buy his story about flaxseed oil.

Just about everybody loves David Ortiz. So Red Sox fans are going to believe him. He has been a terrific performer who is also great with the community and the media. He has earned the reservoir of goodwill that now washes over him. And sitting before the mass media at Yankee Stadium yesterday, he was spectacular. If he told us he was only 5 feet tall, Sox fans would have been inclined to believe him.

Certainly the Players Association did its best to come to the rescue of Papi. Alex Rodriguez should be furious about this. Rodriguez took the high road when asked about the disparity, but one has to wonder where the PA was when A-Rod was the first name leaked back in February. Why didn’t the lords of the union announce their quarrels with the validity of the list when somebody dropped a dime on Rodriguez?

“We thought we were pretty darn vocal,’’ Weiner said. “We wrote a long and publicly-released letter to congressmen Waxman and Davis. Maybe we made a mistake of thinking people would read a letter sent to congressmen.’’

Right. Most of us routinely inspect all correspondence between the Players Association and Congress. Sorry we missed this one.

Seriously, if Donald Fehr, Gene Orza, or Weiner had gone public with their questions about the legitimacy of the (2003) positive results back in February, there would have been less rush to jump on Ortiz when his name came out July 30.

I certainly would have been less harsh on Ortiz (July 31 column) if the PA and MLB told us in February that it’s possible to be on the list and still have been clean.

If Ortiz never cheated, he has the right to summon the words of former Secretary of Labor Raymond Donovan, who, when acquitted of larceny charges, famously said, “Which office do I go to get my reputation back?’’

We’re trained to be cynical of accused cheaters who claim innocence. Has a single one of them ever turned out to be telling the truth? Too bad Ortiz didn’t know about the PA’s contentions with the list when he was named last week. Now everybody knows. And if you want to believe Ortiz was clean in 2003, you have something to cling to.

We may never know the truth. That’s often the way it works out with these things. Ortiz has some points on the plus side: He has tested negative 15 or more times since 2004. He twice passed Olympic standard tests at the World Baseball Classic (voluntarily). Now he can point to uncertainty about those who are on the 2003 list.

But there are still some holes. Ortiz and Weiner have conflicting memories about their brief (2004) meeting regarding the existence of the list. Ortiz says he doesn’t know what he was putting into his body. Asked if he took androstenedione, he said, “I can’t really tell you.’’ His career turned around dramatically in 2003 - which is the year of the test - one year after he was released by one of the best talent evaluators in baseball (Minnesota’s Terry Ryan).

None of the above makes him guilty of cheating in 2003. We thought we knew that for sure when he was outed July 30. Now we don’t know anything for sure. We only know what we believe.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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