The Media Column: It's OK to not vote for David Ortiz

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Merloni and Fauria
M&F - David Ortiz joins us, calls Dan Shaughnessy an A-Hole and says everyone knows it
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Somewhere along the way, not supporting David Ortiz’s Hall of Fame candidacy became viewed as a crime against baseball humanity.

And Big Papi is more than happy to lead the venomous charge.

On “Merloni and Fauria” Wednesday, Ortiz lambasted Dan Shaughnessy for omitting him from his Hall of Fame ballot. For the second straight year, Shaughnessy only voted for Jeff Kent, who hasn’t been tied to performance-enhancing drugs, unlike many of his peers.

“You know Dan Shaughnessy has been an a–hole to everybody, so what can I tell you?” Ortiz said "It’s not a surprise for me, it’s not a surprise for y’all. Now he didn’t vote for me, so what can I do? I mean, seriously, that’s not gonna stop anything. It’s just one guy that didn’t vote for you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

There may be nothing Ortiz can do about Shaughnessy’s vote, but the online pitchfork army is trying its best to shame the famously caustic sportswriter. When Shaughnessy revealed his mostly blank ballot last week, he was widely derided as a “racist.”

Ortiz’s vitriol towards Shaughnessy, and the online name-calling, stems from Shaughnessy confronting the slugger about his alleged steroid use. Ortiz outlined the conversation in a 2015 Players’ Tribune piece.

“In 2013, I came off the DL and started hot,” Ortiz wrote. “My first 20 games I was hitting like .400. And the reporter with the red jheri curl from The Boston Globe comes into the locker room says, “You’re from the Dominican. You’re older. You fit the profile of a steroid user. Don’t you think you’re a prime suspect?”

Later, Ortiz said he wanted “to kill” Shaughnessy, but knew it was better to not react.

In a subsequent column, Shaughnessy confirmed the conversation took place, but says he also raised concerns about Ortiz’s injury history and positive test for an illicit substance in 2003. Shaughnessy defended his decision to bring up Ortiz’s nationality.

“I apologize if my citing the fact that you are from the Dominican Republic offended you, but it is relevant in this discussion,” Shaughnessy wrote. “It’s unfair to say that anyone from the DR must be on steroids — no one is saying that — but it’s also a fact that the issue of performance-enhancing drugs is more acute for baseball players from the Dominican Republic than for players from any other homeland.”

Shaughnessy’s opinion about Ortiz appears to be in the minority. According to unofficial HOF vote-tallier Ryan Thibodaux, Ortiz has garnered 83.7 percent of the votes in his first year on the ballot. The only other two candidates to currently sit above the 75 percent threshold needed for induction are Barry Bonds (77.3 percent) and Roger Clemens (76.2 percent).

It’s worth noting that just more than 43 percent of ballots are included in Thibodaux’ count, and there’s an apparent selection bias at play. Writers who vote for a larger number of players are seemingly more inclined to share their ballots than those who don’t. For example: Clemens and Bonds each received just over 61 percent of the vote last year. It would be quite a jump for both of them to reach the 75-percent threshold during their final year on the ballot.

Ortiz is viewed more favorably than Bonds and Clemens for a couple of reasons. Big Papi was always gregarious with the media, whereas Bonds was surly. There’s also a cloud of suspicion regarding Ortiz’s 2003 test. He’s insisted for years he did nothing wrong, and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred allowed for that possibility before Ortiz’s final regular season game in 2016. Manfred confirmed the players' union returned at least 10 scientifically questionable results during baseball’s inaugural round of testing in ’03.

But there are also inconsistencies with Ortiz’s denial, which conveniently are seldom mentioned. In the aforementioned Players’ Tribune piece, Ortiz claims he was tested for PEDs more than 80 times from 2004-15. If that was the case, then Ortiz probably failed a drug test along the way. As NBC Sports pointed out, all players are tested twice a year for steroids, in addition to random tests. “What that means is 2-3 (tests per year) and, if you’re unlucky, four drug tests a year,” wrote Craig Calcaterra.

If Ortiz was telling the truth, he was tested way more than 2-4 times per year. The Joint Drug Agreement rules that players who have “violated the program” are subject to six additional urine tests during the season and three blood tests.

Either Ortiz tested positive for PEDs, or he lied about the amount of times he was tested.

Personally, I would vote every suspected steroid user into the Hall of Fame, provided their numbers are HOF worthy. PED use was widespread in baseball before its drug testing program was implemented. It’s impossible to know who did and didn’t cheat.

But there is evidence that implicates some players more than others, such as positive tests or federal investigations. While Shaughnessy doesn’t know whether Kent used steroids, there’s nothing that ties him to PED use, unlike Bonds, who admitted to using “the cream and the clear.”

One of the worst byproducts of social media is the prevalence of groupthink. Every Hall of Fame ballot is subjective, and for some, using steroids is disqualifying. And let’s face it: there’s more concrete evidence that ties Ortiz to PEDs than many of his peers. After all, he tested positive for something.

His career trajectory is also suspicious. Ortiz was nothing more than a slap-hitter in Minnesota, only to become one of the game’ most feared sluggers when he joined the Red Sox in ’03. As Shaughnessy mentioned, Ortiz’s late-career resurgence following his struggles with injuries and hitting lefties in 2009 also don’t follow an athlete’s typical path.

Ortiz seems primed to be honored in Cooperstown. That’s great. But the writers who didn’t vote for him aren’t racist or vindictive. They’re just voting the way they feel. Shaughnessy has never voted for any player tied to steroids.

Ortiz is no exception, despite his overwhelming charm.

———————

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Hate means you’re relevant. Apathy is what happens when you’re not.

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