Ortiz, Ramírez Reportedly Tested Positive in 2003 for Performance-Enhancing Drugs

David Ortiz had just 58 career home runs before arriving in Boston prior to the 2003 season.
David Ortiz had just 58 career home runs before arriving in Boston prior to the 2003 season. (By Elise Amendola -- Associated Press)
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By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 31, 2009

Two-thousand-three was the year the Boston Red Sox begat a Nation. With a devastating lineup anchored by left fielder-goofball Manny Ramírez and newly signed designated hitter-extrovert David Ortiz, they set a record for team slugging percentage, reached 95 wins for the first time in 17 years, came within a whisper of a World Series berth and set the once-cursed franchise on a path that would see it win two championships in a four-year span this decade.

But just as baseball has seen its biggest individual story lines -- including the breakings of the all-time single-season and career home run records -- tainted by the never-ending steroid scandal, so is it now seeing one of its most celebrated team achievements darkened by the same stain.

In a report on its Web site Thursday, the New York Times reported that Ortiz and Ramírez -- the charismatic and prolific sluggers who fueled the Red Sox' title runs in both 2004 and 2007 -- tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003.

According to the Times report, which quoted unnamed lawyers familiar with the 2003 results, the names of both Ortiz and Ramírez appear on the disputed list of 104 players who tested positive that year, as baseball underwent supposedly anonymous testing on a survey basis to gauge if the sport had a big enough steroid problem to warrant a thorough testing program. The Times's sources did not divulge the specific substances for which they tested positive.

While Ramírez has already been linked to performance-enhancing drugs -- he was suspended for 50 games earlier this season for using a female fertility drug frequently taken by steroid users to restart the body's testosterone production -- the revelation regarding Ortiz is particularly damaging and disconcerting for baseball, given his larger-than-life persona and previous outspokenness about steroid use.

"Based on the way I have lived my life, I am surprised to learn I tested positive," Ortiz said in a statement following the Red Sox' 8-5 win against the Oakland Athletics in Boston on Thursday, a game in which his three-run homer was the difference. "I will find out what I tested positive for. And . . . based on whatever I learn, I will share this information with my club and the public.

"You know me -- I will not hide and I will not make excuses."

And so, the sport continues to find itself held hostage by a list of names that was never intended to be made public, a list that has trickled out name-by-name this season -- Alex Rodriguez in February, Sammy Sosa in May, and now the two Red Sox stars -- even as the federal judicial system weighs the legality of the 2004 seizure that put it in the hands of the government in the first place.

"The active pursuit of information that may not lawfully be disclosed because it is under court seal is a crime," baseball's players' union said in a sharply worded statement that otherwise did not address Thursday's disclosures. " . . . We intend to take the appropriate legal steps to see that the court orders are enforced."

Ortiz came to Boston in 2003 as an underachieving slugger with a mere 58 career homers to his credit, a player essentially given away for nothing by the Minnesota Twins, and emerged over the next six seasons as the American League's most feared left-handed hitter, a perennial all-star and the beloved "Big Papi."

When Rodriguez, prodded by the 2003 revelation, acknowledged having used steroids from 2001 to '03 while in Texas, Ortiz suggested players who test positive should be suspended for a full season.

"If I test positive for any kind of banned substance, I'm going to disrespect the game, my family, my fans and everybody," he said then. "And I don't want to face that situation, so I won't use it."

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