Boston loves sports and over the past decade, they’ve been given many reasons to celebrate.
The Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, the Patriots won three Super Bowls in four years, the Celtics captured the 2008 banner and the Red Sox won the World Series in both 2004 and 2007.
Through all that, there was no athlete more visible than David Ortiz. Known as “Big Papi” and the lovable father of Red Sox nation, his combination of affable antics and clutch performance have eternally endeared him to the city of Boston.
The Golden Age of Ortiz occurred from 2003 to 2008 when he spurred the Sox to two World Series titles and became the proverbial “Face of the Franchise.” In that time he lead the Majors in RBIs twice, broke a franchise record with 54 homeruns in 2006, and hit .300 four times.
In 2009, it seemed that Big Papi was becoming “Big Pop-up” as Ortiz’s average plummeted to .238 and the homeruns that were once heading into the stands ran out of juice on the warning track. It seemed that Ortiz was beginning the natural decline of a power hitter in Major League Baseball. His batting average was the lowest of his career, his homerun total the lowest since his Minnesota tenure in 2002, and a career high with 134 whiffs at the dish.
So this season, when Ortiz began the year at .426 and carrying over a 27-game hitting streak from last July, fans were mystified. As surprised as they were, it was a pleasant shock for Sox fans, who had been disappointed after last year’s dismal campaign.
Dan Shaughnessy, staff writer at the Boston Globe, was as surprised as any fan to see what Ortiz was doing, but he was skeptical. He asked “How do you think he does it? I don’t know! What makes him so good?’’ and put it at the beginning of his article.
The article he wrote concerned David Ortiz’s improved performance. Shaughnessy penned the piece only after he sat down in the Sox clubhouse to bring it to Ortiz first.
Shaughnessy argues that Ortiz’s only positive test, 2003, could not have been the only time he used Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs). He cited that cheaters are perpetually ahead of testers; Ortiz’s hot start this season, and his residence in the Dominican Republic.
The reciprocation of outrage from the Boston public and colleagues of Shaughnessy have been quick and severe. Over the Monster, a Red Sox fan blog, published Dan Shaughnessy is 59 years old and therefore David Ortiz is Cheating, which – as shown by the sarcastic title – was a biting, harsh piece. Tom Werner has thrown in his reprimand and Barry Petchesky, a Deadspin writer, penned a column insulting Shaughnessy and calling his accusations “inventions.”
The furor against Shaughnessy is unreal. Google “Shaughnessy and David Ortiz” and you’ll see two pages of articles slamming the Boston writer’s article on Big Papi. But, like Lou Merloni said on his show Mutt & Lou on WEEI, Shaughnessy isn’t afraid to be hated. He isn’t afraid to ask the tough question or cause controversy.
Shaughnessy’s main claim is that, without Spring Training, it was improbable for Ortiz to “roll out of bed and hit .426” (Ortiz is now four for his last 32 and his average has “dropped” to .311.)
I can see his point, a 37-year old slugger coming off of wrist and leg problems who is on a tear after not seeing big league pitching for about six months? Seems downright unbelievable. Taking a more focused look at it, however, is it really that ridiculous of a question to ask David Ortiz if he had used PEDs? Is it really a ridiculous question to ask a man who, four years ago, didn’t even hit his first homerun until the 20th of May?
To address the section of the article that people have a problem with the most, the bit about Ortiz living in the Dominican, is not what you think. Yes Ortiz lives in the Dominican in the offseason, trains there and vacations there, but it wasn’t racism by Shaughnessy. It was merely based on the fact that you can buy things there that are unavailable in the United States.
For instance, since the Mitchell Report surfaced and since baseball began suspending people for steroids, over 60% of the suspensions given have been imposed upon those from the Dominican. That trend seems to indicate that 1) Dominican players have an inferiority complex and need to use PEDs to make it to the Bigs or, 2) that sort of stuff is easier to get in the Republic. The intelligent money gets put with option two.
Moving to Shaughnessy’s second point, that Ortiz was mentioned in a 2003 PED-positive list and has injuries in line with sustained steroid use, again we see it’s not ridiculous. Big Papi has never played a full-season (a defensive liability at first base during Interleague play has assured that), but in the last few years, it has been more than that. The Achilles, wrist and leg have all been the source of recurring problems and limited his effectiveness and playing time. It has been proven that those with rampant PED use have their bodies turn on them. Speaking of which, anybody seen Alex Rodriguez this year?
David Ortiz should be slowing down, and hampered by wrist injuries, that should be expedited. Yet, his bat speed is still as quick as the day he reported to camp in Minnesota for his rookie year. (At this point in the interview, Ortiz actually should have been happy for; he “teed off” as he refuted the steroids claim.) He attributed his quick bat to the 400-pound bench press he does every other day. He also said he’s been tested six times (once by blood, five by urine) since the start of the year and every one has come back clean.
Maybe Shaughnessy is just trolling, maybe he’s just trying to get Sox fans riled up and more views on his page at The Globe. But my inclination is that he’s legitimate with his accusation. He really wanted to know why Ortiz was gaining when others of his age and caliber were beginning to fade. Where’s the issue with that?
I’m a huge Sox fan, I love the team. I was frustrated last year, overjoyed during 2004, and devastated the day they traded Nomar, who was my favorite player as a kid. As much of a Sox fan as I am, I’m interested in the truth – if it comes with a hard question, someone needs to be there to ask it. I’m glad Shaughnessy stood up to ask the question that lingered in everyone’s mind – even when he took so much flak for it.
Also, calling Shaughnessy a troll or write something that’ll, to quote Blades of Glory, “Get the people going!” are badly missing at a target placed five feet away. He sat down with Ortiz, mano-a-mano, and asked him directly what made him good. Shaughnessy didn’t take potshots or hide behind the ink of The Globe, he went out and owned his accusations.
So why are other writers doing what Shaughnessy was too brave to do?
As much of a beating that he has taken in the media, Dan Shaughnessy was perfectly within his own right as he made the right call to ask Ortiz about PED use. It may not have been comfortable, it may not have been easy, but it was right. And then again, nothing worth doing is easy.