There was no doubting that David Ortiz was the most dominant player on the field in the 2013 World Series. The designated hitter put up an incredible line of .688/.760/1.188 with two home runs, six RBIs and seven runs scored during the Boston Red Sox‘ 4-2 series win over the St. Louis Cardinals. It would not be outlandish to say that this was the best performance World Series history and made Ortiz a sho0-in for the MVP Award.
But while this spectacular run of play is something to marvel at, should it really be taken at face value?
In the past, fans have repeatedly been let down by stars who have cheated the game through the use of performance-enhancing drugs, and when watching a 37-year-old Ortiz in the World Series, it’s hard to not think you are watching another cheat. Not just because of his age and output, but because of repeated indications that the slugger has used illegal substances in the past, only to wiggle out of trouble each time.
The first implications of Ortiz’s PED use dates back to 2002, when he went from being non-tendered by the Minnesota Twins to becoming an all-world slugger for Boston. Within three years, he jumped from 20 home runs in a season to 47, while also seeing a jump in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS.
All of this came at a time when the naivete of fans, players, coaches and executives in baseball led to a culture that simply ignored players whose play spiked, a trend which would later be attributed to steroid use.
Many of these players were ousted in 2009 by the New York Times when it seemed the public was going after anyone who used PEDs with a vengeance. The reports specifically stated that Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez all used performance-enhancers. Each and every one of these players has since admitted to using illegal supplements, failed a drug test, or been vilified to the point that no one would believe their innocence if Jesus Christ himself announced it.
This willingness to go after cheaters did not apply to Ortiz, who was implicated in the same reports by a failed drug test in 2003. Somehow, he was able to slip out of criticism with a very timid press conference in which he used the normally ill-fated excuse that the use of legal supplements triggered a positive test. For any other athlete, this would not have been an acceptable excuse, but Ortiz received a free pass and was even lauded as a stand-up guy.
While this failed test in 2003 does not automatically translate to steroid use in 2013, it certainly starts a poor trend. Furthermore, recent factors have shown that Ortiz has not learned from somehow skating by in 2009. These new-found doubts started after a poor 2009 season — surprise, surprise — and another sub-par 2010 season that had some questioning whether Ortiz was succumbing to age.
During the 2011 season, the slugger posted significant improvements across the board, all while playing in 146 games at the age of 35. Things only got better in 2012 when he came into camp 20 pounds lighter — which was credited to a new diet — and he put up his best totals since 2007 in batting average, slugging percentage and OPS at 36. This revitalization brought up some skeptics, although none was willing to truly voice their doubts.
All of this brings us back to 2013, when Ortiz played at similar level to 2012 and had a historic playoff campaign. This achievement comes despite him being 37-years old and barely contributing in Spring Training, and is continuing to grow the voices of doubt.
Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe attempted to bring notoriety to these questions in May, but was subsequently lambasted by the general public. People wondered how he could question a hero of Boston, especially one that people believe has been so honest and transparent through the years.
Once upon a time, we also thought the same things about Rodriguez, McGwire and Bonds, and it is safe to say that each eventually betrayed our trust. Things should not and cannot be the same this time, as it is time for fans to take the unpopular stance of standing up and questioning how a guy can improve at an age when most other athletes are breaking down before our eyes.