FORT MYERS, Fla. — David Ortiz has something to say — and perhaps even something to prove — to the naysayers who thought his career was on the downside after an injury-filled 2008 campaign.
“Sometimes I hear some comments and they do nothing but make me stronger,” said Ortiz in a wide-ranging 25-minute interview here late this morning during which he also said players who fail a steroid test should be banned for the year and mentioned that he wouldn’t mind seeing Manny Ramirez return to the Red Sox. “I heard people saying, ‘he’s getting old,’ or whatever. I just turned 33. I’ve never seen a player called old at 33. You know what I mean?
“People are used to seeing the David Ortiz who was producing and I don’t blame nobody, but sometimes if you sit and analyze the game, this is not a game that you just play and go home and that’s about it. You have to be prepared to play and we try. I try my best every time I go out there. Like I say, I try to help the ball club. These negative comments people make about you just because for one year you’ve been off because of injuries and things like that, don’t make no sense.”
Ortiz, looking slimmer than last season, said his left wrist has healed 100 percent after heeding Dr. Thomas Gill’s advice to take two months off and then resuming his hitting program. Ortiz said once he returned to hitting he was fine, and the “popping” noise he heard and felt in his wrist was gone.
“I’m feeling fine right now,” he said. “I have no problem swinging.”
Concerning his power shortage — he hit 23 home runs last season, his fewest since joining the Red Sox before the 2003 season — he said, “I never tried to turn my back on this ball club. I got back [after missing almost eight weeks with a wrist injury] and I wasn’t 100 percent but I knew that being in the lineup I was gonna help one way or the other. And I tried man, I took my chances. Things didn’t work out the way I expected, but sometimes there are people that don’t see the positive side of all that, they just see the negative. I just put that in the past. I know I can hit.”
Ortiz reiterated his belief that the Red Sox need another power bat. He said both Terry Francona and Theo Epstein asked his opinion and he answered them honestly.
“We missed Manny last year,” said Ortiz. “Who’s your cleanup hitter? When your cleanup hitter walks away from your lineup, that’s tough.”
Ortiz reasoned that the AL East will have a lot of good pitching and it’s imperative to have a deep and strong lineup. He said he would hate to see a situation where “you have a pitcher who goes out and pitches seven or eight good innings and you don’t produce for him . . . and end up losing a game 2-1, 2-0 , or 1-0. The more hitters you have, the better chance you’re gonna win games.”
Yet he said he believes the Red Sox have a good lineup with “a lot of good hitters.” And he said spring training will tell you what you need for the season. There are still some guys out there who can do some damage. We’ll see how everything goes.”
When asked whether he’d like see Manny Ramirez back, he said, “Why not?”
He added, “I’m gonna take everything day to day. If I don’t see pitches to hit I won’t swing . . . If I can help my team walking . . . I’ve been walking my whole life. I just want to be healthy like I am right now. If I’m healthy, I know I can do some damage.”
Ortiz also offered some strong opinions on his friend Alex Rodriguez and steroids.
“I think that the A-Rod situation, it was a little bit tough for the game,” Ortiz said. “Talking about the best player all the way around. At the same time, people have to give the guy credit because he came out with what he said at the point of his career where he had done it all. On top of that, that was what? Six years ago? The guy has put up numbers his whole career. It was one thing that he said that caught my attention was that he was young and at the time. . . . sometimes you make the wrong decision like he did. He’s been playing clean and he’s still producing. He’s still been the best player in the game. If I’m a fan and I had to judge the guy, I would put that in the past and move forward. The guy, he works hard, man. He’s still doing his thing. He’s still got nine more years on his contract where he’s definitely gonna do some damage still.”
Ortiz was asked whether it bothered him that the 2003 confidential test was made public in the case of A-Rod.
“Like I said, this game has been hurt, a lot,” said Ortiz. “This is not a players’ game, this is not a team game, it’s a family game. We have a lot of families that live for this game. We have a lot of families that enjoy these games and people who bring their kids to watch these games. And I don’t think this game can take any more. More than 80 or 90 percent of the players [are] playing clean [now]. We’re going through a tough situation all the way around, our soldiers fighting in Iraq, and this game is a distraction for people and the American family. I would like to see some changes and let us just play the game. Guys like myself, I will do what ever it takes to make this game get better. But not everybody’s on the same page, you know what I mean? The game has changed a lot. Just play the game. The game is tough enough. These things we heard from Alex, that was the last thing you want to hear about the baseball game. The guy came out — and he didn’t wait until they took him to the Congress and all that. He was honest.”
Ortiz said that he believes players are clean because testing is quite invasive, and if they test positive now, they should be thrown out of the game for the rest of the year. He said that players and whole teams should be tested “three or four times a year, that’s it” which he thinks would give a good reading on who is or who isn’t on steroids.
“I think you clean up the game by the testing. I test you, you test positive, you’re going to be out. Period,” Ortiz said. “If I test positive using any kind of banned substance I’m going to disrespect the game, my family, my fans and everybody. And I don’t want to face the situation so I won’t use it. I’m sure everybody is on the same page.”
While Ortiz thinks “80 or 90” percent of players are now clean, he said “from what I’ve seen right now from the testimony that Alex gave, I would say it was very low the percentage that wasn’t using it. Like he said, that’s what was going around the league at the time. What else do you want? But in 2004 when they came out with the testing, I guarantee the percentage has been going down.”
Ortiz said he was bothered that players are being paraded around courthouses as if they are criminals.
“There are a lot of players who have been to federal court being judged like they just killed somebody,” Ortiz said. “I don’t think that is supposed to be happening. If you admitted you were using the stuff, don’t use it any more. You know it’s not good for you. You know it’s not good for the game and lets move on, you know what I mean? All the drama of bringing guys to court and acting like they’re serious criminals, it doesn’t look good for the game. What is happening right now is something that happened in the past. It’s not something that is happening right now.”