On the day that the Red Sox commemorated David Ortiz’s on-field accomplishments, the Major League Baseball commissioner shed light — and, in the process, cast doubt upon — the slugger’s biggest off-field controversy, a leaked report seven years ago that identified Ortiz as having tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance.
On July 30, 2009, the New York Times reported that Ortiz was one of just more than 100 players who had tested positive for a banned substance during confidential survey testing conducted by MLB and the MLB Players Association in 2003. At the time, there were no penalties for doing so. If at least 5 percent of the tests came back positive for a banned substance at that time, mandatory testing with penalties for players caught using PEDs would follow, starting in 2004.
After the Times report, MLB issued a brief press release to suggest that inclusion on that preliminary list didn’t mean with certainty that a player had used a banned substance — a measure the league undertook only after Ortiz’s leaked test result.
“I think that the feeling was, at the time that name was leaked, that it was important to make people understand that even if your name was on that list, that it was entirely possible that you were not a positive,” said Rob Manfred. “I do know that he’s never been a positive at any point under our program.”
On Sunday, as he took stock of Ortiz’s role as a “transformational” figure in the game and especially Boston, Manfred detailed why he believes the leak shouldn’t impact Ortiz’s legacy.
“There were legitimate scientific questions about whether or not those were truly positives. If in fact there were test results like that today on a player, and we tried to discipline them, there’d be a grievance over it, it would be vetted, tried, resolved,” said Manfred. “We didn’t do that. Those issues and ambiguities were never resolved because we knew they didn’t matter. We knew we had enough positives that everyone agreed on that we knew we were going to trigger the testing the following year . . . Even if Rob Manfred’s name was on that list, he might have been one of those 10 or 15 where there was probably or at least possibly a very legitimate explanation that did not involve the use of a banned substance.”
Manfred said that in the case of the disputed test results, “it was hard to distinguish between certain substances that were legal, available over the counter, and not banned under our program, and certain banned substances.”
As such, given the uncertainties related to players whose names appeared in the preliminary list of 103, Manfred suggested that players’ Hall of Fame cases shouldn’t be judged by suggestions that they were among those who tested positive.
“Whatever judgment writers decide to make with respect to players who have tested positive or otherwise been adjudicated under our program, that’s up to them. That’s a policy decision. They’ve got to look into their conscience and decide how they evaluate that against the Hall of Fame criteria,” said Manfred. “What I do feel is unfair is in situations where it is leaks, rumors, innuendo, not confirmed positive test results, that that is unfair to the players. I think that would be wrong.”