Looking Back: The Trials of David Ortiz
|01.02.10 at 12:01 am ET|
(WEEI.com is counting down the “Top 10 Things We Couldn’t Shut Up About In 2009.” No topic commanded such attention as the year of David Ortiz in 2009. The Red Sox slugger struggled as never before, faced a barrage of questions about whether his career was in a free-fall, faced further inquiries about how a positive test for performance-enhancing substances in 2003 should force a re-examination of his career… and through it all, managed, by the end of the year, to resume his role as a power presence in the Red Sox lineup. Here is a written, visual and audio look at the most challenging of Ortiz’ seven years in Boston.)
No. 10: Bruins getting bounced by the Hurricanes
No. 9: Garnett’s knee injury alters Celtics’ fate
No. 8: The drama between Crowley and Gates Jr. and No. 7: The downfall of Steve Phillips
No. 3: Fourth-and-2
No. 1: The trials of David Ortiz
Randy Moss recently pronounced that he bore the weight of the world on his shoulders, but with all due respect to the Patriots wide receiver, no topic in Boston sports was more Atlas-sized than the boulder borne by David Ortiz.
Ortiz had enjoyed a perfectly charmed life for his first six years with the Red Sox. But the eternal optimism and good will surrounding the slugger was challenged as never before in 2009.
His performance in the opening months of the season was simply abysmal. After going 0-for-7 on May 14, the defeated slugger could barely address the media, saying only, “Put down, ‘Papi stinks.’”
He did not hit his first homer until May 20. On May 31, his average stood at a pathetic .185 with a .284 OBP, .287 slugging mark and .570 OPS. He had gone from being one of the most feared hitters in baseball to one of the sport’s worst over the two-month spell.
The diagnosis of his struggles became a near-constant undertaking. Speculation was constant and almost uncontrollable: Had the injury to his wrist forever robbed him of bat speed? Were his eyes getting worse? (Ortiz saw an optometrist in June.) Was Ortiz much older than his listed age of 33? (This inquiry, however, ignored that Ortiz had already admitted early in his career to falsifying his date of birth so that he could sign at a younger date.) Meanwhile, Ortiz alluded to personal issues with his father that were weighing on him.
Whatever the cause of his struggles, the consequences were real. The unthinkable became a consideration, as there were calls for the Sox to bench or even replace Ortiz.
Eventually, after being dropped in the lineup from the No. 3 spot that he’d occupied since 2005, Ortiz managed to quiet those suggestions – at least for a while – by hitting again. He did a fairly remarkable job of shoveling himself out of the hole that he had entered, once again stinging the ball. From the beginning of June through July 29, he hit 12 homers with an .890 OPS. Times were good again for Ortiz…before the other shoe dropped.
On July 30, the New York Times reported before an afternoon game against the A’s that Ortiz and Manny Ramirez had been among those whose names appeared on the list of those who tested positive for performance-enhancing substances in 2004. The test results were supposed to be confidential; the test result came at a time when Major League Baseball did not penalize the use of PEDs; and there was no information about what substance triggered Ortiz’ positive test.
Nonetheless, the reaction was swift and became louder as Ortiz remained silent on the matter for over a week while consulting with the MLB Players Association. Against that backdrop, Ortiz – after hitting a game-winning homer on the day he learned of the positive test – struggled again.
He addressed the positive test in a press conference at Yankee Stadium in early-August. Ortiz said that he was guilty of having failed to pay sufficient attention to supplements that he was taking at the time. Some believed his claim; others did not. Regardless, Ortiz seemed relieved by the opportunity to publicly pronounce his innocence of having ever intentionally ingested a banned substance.
For the rest of the year, he managed to shed his difficulties. Though he finished the year with the worst hitting line (.238/.332/.462/.794) of his Sox career, he ended the year with 28 homers and 99 RBIs. He was able to take some satisfaction in overcoming one obstacle after another.
“One thing I’m going to remember about this year is that things got really, really bad — really bad — and I still fight back,” Ortiz said near the end of the season, while reflecting on a year unlike any other in his career. “I never shut it down. That’s the only good thing I can remember.”
“Remember this,” he added. “A bad year for David Ortiz is a hell of a year for some guys.”
Even so, Sox GM Theo Epstein said in the end-of-season press conference that Ortiz had to return to being “a force” if the Sox wanted to accomplish their goals going forward, and the slugger acknowledged that he had to take responsibility for his offseason conditioning to ensure that he would avoid another slow start in 2010.
That offseason represented the culmination of a year when David Ortiz was an endlessly fascinating and relevant topic. For that reason, his unique year was the foremost topic that we couldn’t shut up about in 2009.
July 30 – David Ortiz talks to the media on the day that he learned of his positive test for PEDs in 2003.
July 30 – Terry Francona, in his postgame press conference, discussed the news of Ortiz’ positive test for a performance-enhancing substance.
Aug. 8 – David Ortiz addresses the media regarding the report that he tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in 2003.
Aug. 23 – David Ortiz sounds off on hitting seventh and discusses the positive test for a PED on the Mut & Bradford Show
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