Trust me, I’m as sick of this Houston Astros cheating scandal as you are. But as the slow drip of criticism and reactions from around the league continues to pour in, some have been so perplexing and disturbing that they require comment.
Unfortunately, that includes David Ortiz. I know, I don’t want to do this either.
In typical Big Papi fashion, Ortiz made a splash when he arrived in Fort Myers for Spring Training with the Red Sox last Thursday. He sauntered into the complex, shared an endearing moment with Mookie Betts’ replacement Alex Verdugo, and of course, spoke his mind on the current matters of the day.
That’s where things went south. And considering the Sox are in Florida, that’s really saying something.
“I’m mad at this guy, the pitcher who came out talking about it,” Ortiz said when speaking about Oakland Athletics pitcher Mike Fiers, the whistleblower who opened the floodgates of the cheating scandal this winter.
“And let me tell you why,” Ortiz went on. “Oh, after you make your money, after you get your ring, you decide to talk about it. Why don’t you talk about it during the season when it was going on? Why didn’t you say, ‘I don’t want to be no part of it?’ So you look like you’re a snitch. Why you gotta talk about it after? That’s my problem. Why nobody said anything while it was going on?”
First, let me acknowledge that Ortiz is partially right. It would have been much better for someone in Houston to speak up during the scheme, not years after. But four high-profile firings later, we’re way past the point of hypotheticals. The Astros are dead last in the league in courage, and any hope of them standing up for what is right can be thrown in, yes, the trash can.
That being said, it is ludicrous to call Fiers a snitch. Whoever chose to step forward and tell the truth was bound to face a deluge of hatred, regardless of timing. The baseball world owes Fiers a debt of gratitude for his service to the game. If he chose to remain silent, who knows how long such shameful cheating would have continued throughout the league? Sure, the aftermath has been exhausting and demoralizing for all sides, but sometimes an organization needs to hit rock bottom to truly root out what infects it.
If only Ortiz had stopped there. Instead, he went on to vehemently defend commissioner Rob Manfred.
“To be honest with you, I’ve been watching the whole thing and the commissioner has been getting so much heat. Like, it was him that made that mistake,” Ortiz said. “I don’t agree with him getting all the heat.”
He continued: “Commissioner Manfred has been [legitimate] since day one, and I don’t think it’s fair for everyone pitching him questions and blaming him,” Ortiz said. “We all know that he has the power to suspend people and make decisions, but it’s only until a certain point. After that, he had no control whatever happened in the investigation.”
Other than the fact that I fully disagree with the notion that detractors of Manfred need to, as Ortiz put it, “chillax,” there is crucial context that only worsens this episode.
In July 2009, the New York Times reported that Ortiz was one of more than 100 players who had tested positive for a banned substance during league testing in 2003. Ortiz has always staunchly denied any such allegations, and his reputation seemed to survive the hit.
Fast forward to October 2016. Manfred was in Boston to partake in the team’s celebration of Ortiz ahead of his retirement, and while there, the commissioner brought up that ambiguous report.
“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,” Manfred said to the Boston Globe. “I do know that [Ortiz has] never been a positive at any point under our program.”
That certainly sounds like exoneration to me. A full-throated, and mostly unprompted, pardon. It would surely seem that Manfred has always had Ortiz’s back. Now Papi has his.
Truthfully, none of this should come as a surprise. Ortiz has served as an assistant to the Red Sox for some time now, and he’s become a mouthpiece for ownership. After the Sox traded Betts, Ortiz called their decision “perfect.” He’s a company guy. There to save face and distract fans with his smile.
Ortiz was the definition of clutch during his 20-year career. He came through for the Sox in countless big moments, delivering at just the right time. He was a hero. Now, it turns out Big Papi is not done trying to save the Sox, or the league, when they need him most.