NEW YORK — At a news conference at Yankee Stadium this afternoon, David Ortiz stated definitively that he never used steroids or bought them, but acknowledged that he was “careless” when he was “buying supplements and vitamins over the counter,” and that he may be guilty of taking supplements that he didn’t know contained banned substances.
“I definitely was a little bit careless back in those days when I was buying supplements and vitamins over the counter — legal supplements, legal vitamins over the counter — but I never buy steroids or used steroids,” said Ortiz, who revealed he had been tested 15 times and two more times in the World Baseball Classic since 2003 with no positive result.
While Ortiz was denying he took steroids, incoming executive director of the Major League Baseball Players’ Association Michael Weiner, who sat at Ortiz’s side during the news conference, outlined a strong case for why the list of 104 alleged to have tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003 is flawed and perhaps inaccurate.
Ortiz said he started more attention to the steroids issue once it came to the forefront that players were testing positive for supplements they bought over the counter. Ortiz said he bought the supplements both in the Dominican Republic and in the United States.
“But I never thought buying supplements and vitamins was going to hurt anybody’s feelings,” Ortiz said. “If it happened I’m sorry about that. One of the things I wanted to talk about was there was a misunderstanding about my statement when I first talked about meeting with the union. In 2004, I did meet with Michael, but I was never told I tested positive for steroids. We had a five-minute meeting and it was a little confusing. As the thing was going on I had no idea about the thing going on now. I didn’t put too much attention to it. That’s why when I put out my statement I was surprised about the news.
“I’m not here to make any excuses or anything. I used a lot of supplements and vitamins. I even had companies sending me supplements back then. I never used or buy any steroids.
“I want to apologize to the fans for the distraction to my teammates, our manager. This past week has been a nightmare to me. I think about the fans every day. This game wouldn’t be as good as it is without the fans. People look at me not only as the guy who hits the ball but do things the right way. This past week has been a major distraction and I want to apologize to teammates and team owners for that situation.”
Red Sox manager Terry Francona stood to the side during the news conference.
“I was very proud of the way David handled himself, which shouldn’t be a surprise,” Francona said. “It’s been a long 10 days for him. And as David spoke and Michael spoke, it became more apparent, some of the things that David was dealing with. When we asked for patience, there was a lot of things explained, why there needed to be patience.”
The Red Sox also issued a statement of support after the news conference.
“There are substantial uncertainties and ambiguity surrounding the list of 104 names,” the Red Sox said. “David Ortiz is a team leader, and his contributions on the field and in the community have earned him respect and a special place in the hearts of Red Sox Nation.”
While the government list is alleged to have 104 names on it, the Harvard-educated Weiner said there could be no more than a maximum of 96 positive tests or no fewer than 83 positive tests, based on the 5 percent threshold of players who needed to test positive in the 2003 testing, which triggered a stiff performance-enhancing policy by Major League Baseball and the union.
Weiner reiterated that no one at the union or the commissioner’s office knew specifically who had tested positive, but that players were notified in August or September of 2004 that they were on the government list. Weiner said no further information was given. Ortiz confirmed that he was never informed of a positive test.
Weiner explained in detail the testing process.
“Part of survey testing in 2003 was that every test consisted of a pair of collections. Every single player — the first sample was taken at random — he didn’t know it was coming — and the second one — and I wasn’t there — but David Ortiz was probably told by the collectors not to take any supplements and it would be collected again roughly seven days later. Those two collections together constituted a single test. Every single player who was tested in 2003 had that paired test and when I say there were other players who were tested twice, they would have had two paired collections because every test was paired.”
Weiner said it was done this way by the doping agency in an effort to determine which players were taking hard steroids and which were testing positive for supplements. Weiner also explained that in 2003, many supplements that were later banned were legal to use. He cited androstenedione. I asked Ortiz whether he had taken andro, made famous by Mark McGwire, and Ortiz couldn’t answer whether he had.
Weiner said that if a player tested positive in one collection and negative in another, the final result of that test would be negative.
While the general feeling is that the union has not explained things well during the process, Weiner pointed out that the same things he’s outlined in his statement before today’s press conference were the same points he made in a letter to Congressmen Tom Davis and Henry Waxman and in a separate letter to Sen. George Mitchell. He said the letter to the congressmen were public knowledge, but conceded that perhaps the message didn’t get out as well as he’d hoped.
Weiner was also asked to reconcile the difference between the union’s involvement with Yankees star Alex Rodriguez, who elected to reveal what he took, as opposed to Ortiz, who said he never took steroids and may be guilty of taking supplements that he didn’t know contained banned substances.
“We talked to each of the players involved in this and again each player made his own determination as to what he wanted to say,” Weiner said. “The fact we decided to issue our statement today was a function of the fact the message had not been gotten out about the unfairness in which this story has been reported. We would have issued that statement no matter who the player and where ever in the country he was. The fact that David decided to make a statement is what drove me to come here. It would be wrong to suggest that our view is any different with any of our players.”
Weiner said while he won’t reveal publicly individual concerns players have expressed to him over this story, he said he has received suggestions from players that the entire list come out.
“Sure there are some people who say why don’t we just get this story over with and get the list out,” Weiner said. “That would be, one, illegal, and two, it’s illegal because it’s covered by court order. And it would be wrong because a promise was made by the commissioner’s office and union that every player tested should have those results be anonymous. Even if the court order didn’t exist the promises made by the both parties it would be wrong to release that list.”
Weiner emphasized, “We discussed with Alex [Rodriguez] everything we discussed with David and we responded to allegations that Alex had been tipped off and all that stuff. Together with Alex we did the best we could back then. Maybe we made the mistake of thinking people would read the letter we sent to the congressmen because everything we said today is in that letter.”
Weiner thought Ortiz’s concerns were well-founded. He said, “David Ortiz doesn’t know anything about his test results. He doesn’t know whether what he took any affect on his 2003 result. That’s the unfairness. His reputation is called into question. He can’t get the information and he can’t get the result that would allow him a full explanation. David did a great job, the best he could, under almost impossible circumstances. But I don’t think anyone can say he knows what he took. He knows what supplements he took, but he doesn’t t know whether they had any impact on his 2003 test.”
Weiner was asked whether the union bears the bulk of the responsibility for not destroying the test results after they were issued.
“Talk about responsibility … you talk about a lot of things,” Weiner said. “We’re in a bad situation. It’s a situation that nobody wanted to be in, the commissioner didn’t want to be in, the union didn’t want to be in, the players didn’t want to be in. We’re precisely in that position because the government violated the constitution and we are in the position we are in now because undoubtedly, people bound by a court order, violated that court order. We’re doing the best we can at this stage to protect the integrity of our program and the players we represent. I’m sorry we’re in the situation we’re in. I’m not going to comment on how you parcel out responsibility.”
In an earlier statement, Weiner indicated “the sealing orders, which were appropriately issued by the various courts to maintain the collectively-bargained confidentiality of the testing, prevent the Association from supplying a player with specifics regarding his 2003 test results, or from discussing those specifics publicly.
“The practical effect of the sealing orders, if that confidentiality is to be maintained, is to further preclude the Players Association from confirming or denying whether a player’s name appears on any list which purportedly discloses the 2003 test results. The result is that any union member alleged to have tested positive in 2003 because his name supposedly appears on some list — most recently David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez — finds himself in an extremely unfair position; his reputation has been threatened by a violation of the court’s orders, but respect for those orders now leaves him without access to the information that might permit him to restore his good name.
“Unlike those anonymous lawyers who have violated the court orders — and The New York Times, which has authorized an active and willful pursuit of those violations — the Association will respect the courts’ rulings. But we can legally say the following, each of which we suggest must be considered in assessing any and all newspaper reports stating a player has “tested positive for steroids in 2003.
“First, the number of players on the so-called ‘government list’ meaningfully exceeds the number of players agreed by the bargaining parties to have tested positive in 2003. Accordingly, 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.
“Second, substantial scientific questions exist as to the interpretation of some of the 2003 test results. The more definitive methods that are utilized by the lab that administers the current Drug Agreement were not utilized by the lab responsible for the anonymous testing program in 2003. The collective bargaining parties did not pursue definitive answers regarding these inconclusive results, since those answers were unnecessary to the administration of the 2003 program.
“Third, in 2003, legally available nutritional supplements could trigger an initial ‘positive’ test under our program. To account for this, each “test” conducted in 2003 actually consisted of a pair of collections: the first was unannounced and random, the second was approximately 7 days later, with the player advised to cease taking supplements during the interim. Under the 2003 program, a test could be initially reported as “positive”, but not treated as such by the bargaining parties on account of the second test.“
Weiner made all those points and also added more information, which we have outlined.