Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ortiz and Ramirez Said to Be on 2003 Doping List

Ortiz and Ramirez Said to Be on 2003 Doping List
July 30, 2009

Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, the sluggers who propelled the Boston Red Sox to end an 86-year World Series championship drought and to capture another title three years later, were among the roughly 100 Major League Baseball players to test positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003, according to lawyers with knowledge of the results.

Some of baseball’s most cherished storylines of the past decade have been tainted by performance-enhancing drugs, including the accomplishments of record-setting home run hitters and dominating pitchers. Now, players with Boston’s championship teams of 2004 and 2007 have also been linked to doping.

Baseball first tested for steroids in 2003, and the results from that season were supposed to remain anonymous. But for reasons that have never been made clear, the results were never destroyed and the first batch of positives has come to be known among fans and people in baseball as “the list.” The information was later seized by federal agents investigating the distribution of performance-enhancing drugs to professional athletes, and the test results remain the subject of litigation between the baseball players union and the government.

Five others have been tied to positive tests from that year: Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, Jason Grimsley and David Segui. Bonds, baseball’s career home runs leader, was not on the original list, although federal agents seized his 2003 sample and had it retested. Those results showed the presence of steroids, according to court documents.

The information about Ramirez and Ortiz emerged through interviews with multiple lawyers and others connected to the pending litigation. The lawyers spoke anonymously because the testing information is under seal by a court order. The lawyers did not identify which drugs were detected.

Unlike Ramirez, who recently served a 50-game suspension for violating baseball’s drug policy, Ortiz had not previously been linked to performance-enhancing substances.

Scott Boras, the agent for Ramirez, would not comment Thursday.

Asked about the 2003 drug test on Thursday in Boston, Ortiz shrugged. “I’m not talking about that anymore,” he said. “I have no comment.”

The union has argued that the government illegally seized the 2003 test results, and judges at various levels of the federal court system have weighed whether the government can keep them. The government hopes to question every player on the list to determine where the drugs came from. An appeals court is deliberating the matter, and the losing side is likely to appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

A spokesman for the United States attorney’s office for the Northern District of California, which seized the tests, declined to comment on Thursday. Michael Weiner, the general counsel for the players union, also declined to comment.

One by one, the names of elite players tied to performance-enhancing drugs have surfaced this year. In February, it was Rodriguez and Bonds. In May, it was Ramirez — for the first time. In June, it was Sosa.

Rodriguez had been viewed by some as a clean player who could eventually overtake the career home run record established by Bonds, who had been linked to possible drug use through the federal investigation. Rodriguez subsequently admitted that he used a performance-enhancing substance from 2001 to 2003.

The Times reported in June that Sosa was among those who tested positive in 2003, the first time he had been publicly tied to performance-enhancing drugs. Sosa became a national figure with the Chicago Cubs in 1998, when he and Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals engaged in a celebrated race to overtake Roger Maris’s single-season home run record of 61. McGwire’s image suffered tremendously when, at a Congressional hearing in 2005, he refused to answer questions about steroid use.

By 2003, Ramirez had long since established himself as one of baseball’s best hitters. Ortiz, however, was less known. In 2002, the Minnesota Twins effectively cut him after failing to trade him. He signed a bargain contract with the Red Sox and began the 2003 season as a backup.

Ortiz quickly blossomed, setting personal highs in home runs (31) and runs batted in (101). He surpassed those numbers in each of the next four seasons.

Ramirez, with his dreadlocks and quirky behavior, and Ortiz, with his gregarious personality and portly build, formed a dynamic tandem on and off the field. They seemed to feed off each other — not to mention demoralize opponents — by hitting back-to-back in the heart of the lineup.

In 2004, they helped the Red Sox overcome a 3-0 series deficit against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. The Red Sox then swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series to end decades of heartbreak in Boston. Ortiz had a game-winning home run and a game-winning hit against the Yankees and was named the most valuable player of that series. Ramirez was named the World Series M.V.P. after going 7 for 17 at the plate with a home run.

Three years after winning that first title, Ramirez and Ortiz returned Boston to another World Series, where they defeated the Colorado Rockies.

The pairing was split last season when the Red Sox traded Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers after team officials grew concerned that he was not playing hard in response to a contract dispute. In Los Angeles, Ramirez took off again, becoming popular among the fans and leading the Dodgers to the playoffs.

But Ramirez’s hero status in Los Angeles took a hit in May when he was suspended after baseball officials learned that he had been prescribed a fertility drug often used by bodybuilders after they stopped using steroids. When Ramirez was suspended, he issued a statement that appeared to maneuver around his 2003 test results.

“I do want to say one other thing,” Ramirez said. “I’ve taken and passed about 15 drug tests over the past five seasons.”

That five-year period extended back to 2004, which excludes the 2003 test.

Since returning from his suspension, Ramirez has been widely accepted by the home fans. In 48 games this season, he has compiled a .327 average and has hit 11 home runs.

Ortiz, meanwhile, has been in a sharp decline. He had an operation on his wrist last year and missed nearly a third of the season. He started this year in a slump and did not hit his first home run until a month and a half into the season. Since June 1, however, he has hit 12 more home runs.

In 2007, Ortiz said that he used to buy a protein shake in the Dominican Republic when he was younger and did not know if it contained a performance-enhancing drug.

“I don’t do that anymore because they don’t have the approval for that here, so I know that, so I’m off buying things at the GNC back in the Dominican Republic,” Ortiz told The Boston Herald. He added: “I don’t know if I drank something in my youth, not knowing it.”

In February, he said that players who tested positive for steroids should be suspended for an entire season — about 100 games more than the current policy requires for a first offense.

David Waldstein contributing reporting from Boston.

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