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National Columnist

Ortiz has right to deny cheating, but that doesn't mean it's wrong to ask

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Just so you know, Major League baseball players, we think you're cheating. All of you? No. Of course not. We don't think all of you are cheating. But we -- and by we I'm referring to all but the most generous and naïve of baseball fans -- think some of you are.

David Ortiz? We don't know if you're cheating. But we wonder, and not just that columnist from the Boston Globe who clumsily opened a can of worms by grilling Ortiz on the likelihood that his fast start was pharmaceutically enhanced. It's easy to wonder about Ortiz, who was revealed by the New York Times in 2009 to have tested positive for PEDs six years earlier, a result Ortiz blamed on a combination of vitamins and supplements. Here in 2013 he was hitting .426 through 15 games despite missing spring training after suffering a season-ending Achilles' injury last July. He's 37 years old. So we wondered. How could we not wonder?

Clay Buchholz? We don't know if you're cheating, either. But we wonder, and not just those radio guys in Toronto who spotted Buchholz rubbing his right hand over his left forearm, again and again as if he were trying to summon a genie -- or something else -- from that surface. Pitchers have been loading up the baseball for years, Buchholz is doing that with his pitching hand, and his 1.60 ERA through seven starts is nearly one-third his 4.56 ERA of last season, while his 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings was nearly one-third better than his 6.7 career ratio entering the season. Sure, lots of us wonder. How could we not wonder?

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You guys cheat.

Not necessarily you guys, David Ortiz and Clay Buchholz. I don't mean you guys, specifically. I mean, you baseball-playing guys. You in Boston and New York and San Francisco and Florida. And all MLB points in between. You guys. You cheat.

You've been cheating for decades. Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Preacher Roe was a notorious cheater in the 1940s and '50s -- he wrote a first-person story for Sports Illustrated in 1955 titled, "The Outlawed Spitball Was My Money Pitch" -- who improved from 4-15 with a 5.25 ERA in 1947 to 22-3 (3.04 ERA) in 1951. At age 35. How do you suppose he did that? He cheated, of course.

Lots of guys cheated. Whitey Ford cheated. Mickey Mantle cheated. Gaylord Perry. Cheated all the way into the Hall of Fame. Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens would have joined them in Cooperstown if everyone hadn't finally caught on. Some baseball players cheat. Always have. Always will. That's a fact.

But not everybody cheats. That's also a fact. So when that Globe columnist asked him about his fast start, and openly wondered if steroids had anything to do with it, a denial by David Ortiz was fine. A denial was necessary.

But a denial would have been enough.

Instead, Ortiz and Red Sox chairman Tom Werner went too far -- taking the moral high ground that was theirs to take and then taking it too far, piously strutting right over the cliff. I mean, who do they think they're kidding with this stuff?

Both Ortiz and Werner sniveled their way through reaction pieces, Ortiz talking to various ESPN platforms and Werner writing his own column at MLB.com, and both insinuated that Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy is racist for noting that Ortiz is from the Dominican Republic and writing, "A number of players from the Dominican Republic have tested positive for steroids."

Wrote Werner in the second sentence of his story at MLB.com: "[Shaughnessy] said that David's 27-game hitting streak was suspect, in part, because older players 'do not get better' and, most disturbing to me, because he is from the Dominican Republic."

Said Ortiz to ESPN: "... the guy came to see me and asked some questions about steroids, and when you see the writing, it basically focuses on the fact that I'm Dominican and that many Dominicans have been caught using steroids."

Shaughnessy's column offered a brief introduction and then essentially his interview with Ortiz. They went back and forth, with Shaughnessy making 10 comments to Ortiz about cheating. I counted them. Ten. See for yourself. Of those 10, exactly one of them had anything to do with Ortiz' ethnicity, and it mentioned just as pointedly Ortiz's history of injuries and his age. Was Shaughnessy being ageist as well?

When he wasn't making himself out to be a victim of racism -- Ortiz compared himself to a Middle Easterner being profiled as a terrorist, or to a white American as a KKK member -- Ortiz was passive-aggressively pouting like a champ.

"I have spent many years in Boston and still do not know the right way to do things," he told ESPN. "If you do it wrong, they'll finish you. If you're doing well, they'll finish you, too. There's no area where you feel safe."

Ortiz also said: "I've had a couple of bad Aprils and they have tried to bring me to the point of suicide. ... Now I'm having a good April and they attack me anyhow."

Poor guy. Just can't win, can you? Now tell us some more about that 2003 test and the vitamins that caused it.

Werner, the Red Sox chairman, pointed out that Ortiz already has been tested for PEDs five times this season and wondered how could "a writer publicly assert a presumption of guilt -- without any foundation, without any basis, and without any evidence?"

C'mon, son. That's just stupid.

Baseball has been laying a foundation, giving the skeptics a basis, providing us evidence, for decades. Baseball players have routinely done the unexplainably remarkable, even wagged a finger in our face and assured us they've done it fairly and squarely, only to get caught cheating.

This is David Ortiz's finger-wagging moment, but when we wonder about him or about anyone else doing the unexplainably remarkable, understand something: This is the players' fault.

They're the ones who cheated their ass off in the 1990s, injecting steroids like insulin because owners were digging the long ball. They're the ones whose union fought against drug-testing for years. Hell, one of Ortiz's former teammates in Boston will tell you that.

Players are the ones who even now are finding new ways to cheat, because a drug test catches only what it's looking for. And since chemists keep creating new drugs that the testers know nothing about, well, you see the problem.

The cheaters win. The smart ones, anyway.

Does that mean David Ortiz, already linked to PEDs once in his career, is dirty this year? Nope. Not at all.

But it's not stupid to wonder. Given the history here -- not just of David Ortiz, but of baseball in general -- it would be stupid not to.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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