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​MLB Commissioner Gives David Ortiz a Pass on Failed PED Test from 2003

Commissioner Rob Manfred says the survey used to inform MLB's PED policy was unreliable—at least in the case of the beloved David Ortiz.
(By cheating.) Photo credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox saluted the career of slugger David Ortiz in a ceremony under overcast skies at Fenway Park Sunday afternoon, and baseball commissioner Rob Manfred tried to ensure that PEDs wouldn't cast a shadow on Ortiz's legacy.

Speaking to reporters, Manfred all but exonerated Ortiz from a positive test in 2003 that has raised questions about the full legitimacy of Ortiz's credentials, which otherwise make him a strong candidate for the Hall of Fame in a few years.


Ortiz hasn't failed a drug test since 2004, but in 2009 his was among those names leaked of several MLB players who reportedly tested positive in what was supposed to be a confidential league-wide survey in 2003. The information gleaned from the survey informed the drug-testing agreements between the owners and the players' union that have been in place since 2004.

The test Ortiz reportedly failed, Manfred said via NESN, might not have been reliable:

"I don't think people understand very well what that list was," Manfred said. "The provision in the agreement was that if there was over a certain percentage of players who were positives, then we would go into actual identified personal testing in the next year. We (got) a list of results back. We were well over the percentage necessary to trigger the testing…. I would tell you there were double digits of names—so, more than 10—on that list where we (the MLB Players Association and the league office) knew that there were legitimate scientific questions about whether or not those were truly positives."

Essentially, the 2003 survey testing was more of an informal gauge to track PED usage before 2004, when a more comprehensive drug-testing program was implemented. And, according to Manfred, a positive result didn't necessarily mean that player was using a banned substance.

"Even if Rob Manfred's name was on that list," the commissioner continued, "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.


"Back then, 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."

First of all, it's good to know that MLB based its PED-testing program on results from a survey the commissioner now admits was unreliable. Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, Jason Grimsley, and David Segui were the other names from the 2003 tests to be leaked.

When asked directly how Ortiz's PED test should relate to his chances for Cooperstown induction, Manfred said voters "should look into their conscience and decide how they evaluate that against the Hall of Fame criteria."

If Ortiz's positive test for PEDs is not legitimate, as Manfred implies, then steroids shouldn't be used against him for Cooperstown. This is a different tune than the league sings for others, including Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds.

As Mike Axisa of CBS points out, this is a clear double standard, contradiction, paradox, and hypocrisy. If the league likes you, you get a pass. If it doesn't like you, well, prepare to face hell.