“How do you think he does it? I don’t know! What makes him so good?’’
Pete Townshend, “Pinball Wizard”
Hitting is not this easy. Athletes do not get better as they mature into their late 30s. Baseball has been peppered with performance-enhancing drugs for the last 20 years. The cheaters are always ahead of the testers. A number of players from the Dominican Republic have tested positive for steroids. Injuries to the Achilles’ tendon are consistent with steroid use. It is not natural for a guy to hit .426 out of the gate without the benefit of any spring training.
So David Ortiz knows. He knows he is a suspect. He knows there are people out there who think he’s cheating. His name appeared on a list of players who tested positive for PEDs in 2003. And what he is doing now just doesn’t look possible.
When you cheat at cards, they tell you to lose a couple of hands to make it look good. Ortiz can’t even seem to do that. He just keeps raking. Ortiz Tuesday night extended his hitting streak to 27 games, dating to last July, before he got hurt.
This is an uncomfortable topic, but it’s preferable to question a man face-to-face than to tarnish him by whisper and innuendo. I went to Ortiz Tuesday afternoon in the Sox clubhouse and put some hard questions to him. I told him he looks dirty.
Did he hear the fans in Toronto chanting, “Steroids!’’?
“No, not really,” said Ortiz. “Why?’’
Because what you are doing looks too good to be true.
‘My bat speed has been the same since the first day I got here.’
“They test me all the time,” he said. “They make you pee and they test your blood, too. This year I would say I’ve probably been tested five times, peeing. Blood, just once. That was in spring training. They don’t warn you. They just show up.’’
What it is like to be suspected?
“I don’t think I have been,” he said. “Nobody comes to me and tells me, ‘They suspect you are using steroids.’ ’’
But you fit all the models. You are from the Dominican Republic. You are an older player. Older players don’t get better. You’ve had injuries consistent with steroid use. You showed up on the list from 2003. You fit all the formulas.
“[Expletive], I’m a human being just like everyone else,” said Ortiz. “You can get worse or you can get better. One or the other.’’
But in 2009, you didn’t hit a home run until May 20. Now this. You are Baseball Rambo. What is the difference?
“In 2009, I was coming back from a hand injury [partially torn sheath, left wrist],” he said. “I injured my hand, badly. I tried to come back, but I wasn’t the same. It carried over until my hand started feeling better. I got bad habits from that.
“Once I started feeling better, I went back to be who I was. It wasn’t any different. I went back to hitting homers like I was doing before that. It wasn’t like I started hitting homers after I figured it out in ’09.’’
But it’s like you’re a different hitter now from what you were then (Ortiz hit .238 in 2009).
“Where are you trying to go with this? That’s my question. If you work hard, you’re not supposed to get better?’’
No, but the rest of us don’t get better when we get older. I could touch the rim when I played basketball in high school. I’m not out there throwing down dunks today.
“Basketball is not the same,” said Ortiz. “I don’t forget about hitting the damn fastball. I go up there” — he points to the weight room — “and I bench press 400 pounds. Every other day. If I don’t do it, I’m not going to feel as strong as I am.
“I don’t like to be talking about this steroid thing because people get the wrong idea.’’
But how can your bat speed be better now than it was when you were 34? How do you do that?
“It ain’t better,” he said. “My bat speed has been the same since the first day I got here.
“I just don’t want no misunderstanding ’cause I got no time for this [expletive] right now.’’
But hitting is really hard and you are making it look so easy. No spring training. You are hitting .426.
“It is not easy, bro. My good day, I go 0 for 4. It’s not easy. It just happens.
“We work consistently to get better. I don’t work consistently in the cage every day, I don’t hit every day in batting practice, I don’t watch video every day to get worse. If I want to get worse, or if I’m expecting to get worse, I come here and sit in my chair and 10 minutes before the game I get up.
“No. I get here at 2 o’clock and I have a whole routine like everyone else to do well. One day it’s not going to continue happening and I’m fine with it.’’
Do you understand why people are suspicious?
“I don’t care about what people say, bro. People don’t feed my family. I feed my family.
“You are never going to make everybody happy, bro. That’s the bottom line. If you struggle, it’s bad. If you do well, it’s bad, too.
“I don’t care. I don’t got nothing to hide, bro. Testing is not my problem. Being tested — I ask to go in to get it done. I got no problem with that. I’m not going to screw everything that I have done in my career because I test positive for steroids. That’s not going to happen.
“If I can’t get it done anymore because I can’t get it done? I go home. But not because of that [expletive].
“I guarantee you that later, you are not going to find out that I tested positive for some [expletive]. It’s not happening. Guaranteed. Guaranteed.’’Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.