Rob Manfred says David Ortiz may not have taken banned substances in 2003

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Death. Taxes. Someone bringing up PEDs in the comments section whenever David Ortiz‘s name is mentioned. These are the only certainties in life. Rob Manfred just complicated that a little bit, however, by doing the closest thing he can probably do to issuing a pardon to Big Papi over his association with a positive drug test in 2003.

You’ll recall that, in 2003, players were subjected to non-disciplinary, putatively anonymous drug testing. The reason: per agreement with Major League Baseball, if a certain percentage of players tested positive for PEDs during this survey testing, binding, disciplinary testing would go into effect in 2004. More than the required percentage did and baseball’s drug testing regime was launched.

The results of those tests were to be destroyed. Overzealous law enforcement, however, seized the test results in a bungled and ultimately unsuccessful investigation and then, seemingly spitefully, leaked the IDs of at least three of the positive testers to the media. The names leaked: Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz. All issued denials of various plausibility. Only Rodriguez later admitted a knowing use of PEDs at the time. Ortiz and Sosa have been tarred by it to varying degrees. Ortiz, of course, has taken far less of a hit to his reputation than either of the other two.

Now, on the occasion of Ortiz’s retirement, Commissioner Manfred has made a remarkable statement regarding that 2003 testing as it relates to Ortiz. He did it yesterday, on the occasion of Big Papi’s retirement ceremony. From the Boston Globe:

“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 . . . “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.”

Manfred went on to say that Hall of Fame voters should not take the 2003 survey testing into account. He said that while testing positive under the current drug program is fair game for voters and their conscience, “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.”

This is remarkable statement from Manfred. Certainly for Ortiz, who was likely to face some pushback on his Hall of Fame case due to being a DH and, more importantly, due to his 2003 positive in the survey testing. Major League Baseball basically just told writers — who have long begged the commissioner for guidance on such matters — to ignore it and treat Ortiz as if he has a clean slate. I suspect voters will do so.

The bigger question is whether they will do the same for Sammy Sosa who, apart from the 2003 survey testing, which Manfred now says to discard, never tested positive for PEDs. Sosa, despite 609 career home runs and credit, at the time, for helping revitalize baseball in the wake of the 1994-95 strike, only got 7% of the vote this past season and will likely fall off the ballot after this year’s voting. I bet he would’ve liked Bud Selig or Rob Manfred to vouch for him like he just vouched for Ortiz.

Or how about Alex Rodriguez? While Rodriguez did eventually admit that he used banned substances around the time of the 2003 testing, how does Manfred’s statement yesterday square with how Major League Baseball treated Rodriguez during the Biogenesis investigation? Rodriguez was banned for a year despite the fact that Biogenesis represented his first violation under the drug agreement and, in the runup to it, MLB officials floated the idea of banning him for life. Part of the reason for that severity was for Rodriguez allegedly impeding the Biogenesis investigation, but the rhetoric surrounding it all at the time, at least from the media, was that Rodriguez was not a first time offender due to the 2003 tests.

So, yes, it is nice that Commissioner Manfred has effectively pardoned Ortiz over the survey testing. It’s the right thing to do for specifically the reasons Manfred states. But when will he say the same thing about Sammy Sosa and Alex Rodriguez? And Will Hall of Fame voters and the public at large give them the same forgiving treatment for the 2003 tests that David Ortiz is receiving now?


Bonds, Clemens left out of Hall again; McGriff elected

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO – Moments after Fred McGriff was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, almost two decades after his final game, he got the question.

Asked if Barry Bonds belonged in Cooperstown, a smiling McGriff responded: “Honestly, right now, I’m going to just enjoy this evening.”

A Hall of Fame committee delivered its answer Sunday, passing over Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling while handing McGriff the biggest honor of his impressive big league career.

The lanky first baseman, nicknamed the “Crime Dog,” hit .284 with 493 homers and 1,550 RBIs over 19 seasons with six major league teams. The five-time All-Star helped Atlanta win the 1995 World Series.

McGriff got 169 votes (39.8%) in his final year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot in 2019. Now, he will be inducted into Cooperstown on July 23, along with anyone chosen in the writers’ vote, announced Jan. 24.

“It’s all good. It’s been well worth the wait,” said McGriff, who played his last big league game in 2004.

It was the first time that Bonds, Clemens and Schilling had faced a Hall committee since their 10th and final appearances on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. Bonds and Clemens have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, and support for Schilling dropped after he made hateful remarks toward Muslims, transgender people, reporters and others.

While the 59-year-old McGriff received unanimous support from the 16 members of the contemporary baseball era committee – comprised of Hall members, executives and writers – Schilling got seven votes, and Bonds and Clemens each received fewer than four.

The makeup of the committee likely will change over the years, but the vote was another indication that Bonds and Clemens might never make it to the Hall.

This year’s contemporary era panel included Greg Maddux, who played with McGriff on the Braves, along with Paul Beeston, who was an executive with Toronto when McGriff made his big league debut with the Blue Jays in 1986.

Another ex-Brave, Chipper Jones, was expected to be part of the committee, but he tested positive for COVID-19 and was replaced by Arizona Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall.

The contemporary era committee considers candidates whose careers were primarily from 1980 on. A player needs 75% to be elected.

“It’s tough deciding on who to vote for and who not to vote for and so forth,” McGriff said. “So it’s a great honor to be unanimously voted in.”

In addition to all his big hits and memorable plays, one of McGriff’s enduring legacies is his connection to a baseball skills video from youth coach Tom Emanski. The slugger appeared in a commercial for the product that aired regularly during the late 1990s and early 2000s – wearing a blue Baseball World shirt and hat.

McGriff said he has never seen the video.

“Come Cooperstown, I’ve got to wear my blue hat,” a grinning McGriff said. “My Tom Emanski hat in Cooperstown. See that video is going to make a revival now, it’s going to come back.”

Hall of Famers Jack Morris, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell also served on this year’s committee, which met in San Diego at baseball’s winter meetings.

Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Belle, Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy rounded out the eight-man ballot. Mattingly was next closest to election, with eight votes of 12 required. Murphy had six.

Bonds, Clemens and Schilling fell short in January in their final chances with the BBWAA. Bonds received 260 of 394 votes (66%), Clemens 257 (65.2%) and Schilling 231 (58.6%).

Palmeiro was dropped from the BBWAA ballot after receiving 25 votes (4.4%) in his fourth appearance in 2014, falling below the 5% minimum needed to stay on. His high was 72 votes (12.6%) in 2012.

Bonds has denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs, and Clemens maintains he never used PEDs. Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days in August 2005 following a positive test under the major league drug program.

A seven-time NL MVP, Bonds set the career home run record with 762 and the season record with 73 in 2001. A seven-time Cy Young Award winner, Clemens went 354-184 with a 3.12 ERA and 4,672 strikeouts, third behind Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Randy Johnson (4,875). Palmeiro had 3,020 hits and 568 homers.

Schilling fell 16 votes shy with 285 (71.1%) on the 2021 BBWAA ballot. The right-hander went 216-146 with a 3.46 ERA in 20 seasons, winning the World Series with Arizona in 2001 and Boston in 2004 and 2007.

Theo Epstein, who also served on the contemporary era committee, was the GM in Boston when the Red Sox acquired Schilling in a trade with the Diamondbacks in November 2003.

Players on Major League Baseball’s ineligible list cannot be considered, a rule that excludes Pete Rose.