ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Say it ain't so, Big Papi. That's what they called David Ortiz - the slugging designated hitter of the Boston Red Sox. And according to The New York Times, Ortiz and his then-teammate Manny Ramirez were on the list of 104 major leaguers who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003. Both players were stars on the 2004 Red Sox, who won the World Series for the first time in 86 years.
Bill Littlefield is the host of NPR's Only a Game, which is produced at WBUR in Boston. How you been?
BILL LITTLEFIELD: Very well, Robert. Yourself?
SIEGEL: Fine. And let's stipulate now that Manny Ramirez is a confirmed problem child who now plays in Los Angeles. He's already been suspended for another failed drug test. David Ortiz, though, how big is David Ortiz?
LITTLEFIELD: Well, David Ortiz has been something of a folk hero in Boston. He's the favorite player of my 89-year-old mother who roots for the Red Sox and has been devastated by the fact that Big Papi has not been hitting well, at least in the early part of the season.
SIEGEL: But he had a pretty good day today.
LITTLEFIELD: Yes, he did. He had a three-run homer and he won the game for them. Two hits and a walk and a standing ovation, I understand, at the ballpark. They weren't worried at all about The New York Times' revelation.
SIEGEL: Now, can you explain the list that The New York Times has reported on from time to time, citing, in this case, lawyers familiar with its contents?
LITTLEFIELD: Right. Lawyers who remain anonymous and who should be ashamed of themselves, as should everybody connected with the release of any of these names, this list is a list of players who tested positive. They had all been told that the only reason for these tests was to establish how many players, roughly, were taking performance-enhancing drugs. And that their names would never be released and that they would never be penalized and this was Major League Baseball's step toward a testing program. And, of course, all of those promises have been broken and the players have suffered a good deal.
SIEGEL: A few names have been released, have been leaked and they're pretty impressive names in terms of baseball accomplishments.
LITTLEFIELD: Well, nobody wants to hear about a utility infielder whose career lasted a season-and-a-half. Yes, the big news, of course, is players like Alex Rodriquez and Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz.
SIEGEL: Okay. Now, 2003 was the year of that drug test. In that year, David Ortiz really became a homerun hitter. He hit 31 homeruns, which was 10 more than the year before, 13 more than the year before that. And over the next four seasons - I did my homework here - over the next four seasons, he hit 41, 47, 54 and 35. Are those numbers now suspect to you?
LITTLEFIELD: Well, I think you have to put it in a context. If you want to start going down the records of various major league players over the last decade or so, you can find all kinds of people whose numbers are exceedingly suspect - David Ortiz probably among that group.
The problem is if the people who have been speculating about how widespread steroid use has really been in Major League Baseball are correct, I don't know where you stop. And you don't stop with hitters. How many pitchers have gotten better and recovered more quickly because they were using performance-enhancing drugs, and therefore their statistics are also better than they otherwise would've been?
SIEGEL: What do you think of what Henry Aaron said at baseball's Hall of Fame induction ceremony the other day, that perhaps when players from these days enter the Hall of Fame, there should be an asterisk next to their name saying, they played during the steroid era.
(Soundbite of laughter)
LITTLEFIELD: Well, I'm not a great fan of the asterisk, but there certainly would be a great many asterisks if Mr. Aaron's plan were to come into place. I do like very much what Jose Conseco said today. Somebody from ESPN talked to Jose and he said he wasn't surprised. And then he said it was really the fault of, quote, "The machine that has allowed this to happen." And he followed that up with, "What I speak out of my mouth is the truth. It burns like fire." And I wish to have a T-shirt with that on it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIEGEL: Okay. Bill Littlefield of Only a Game. Thanks for talking with us.
LITTLEFIELD: Thank you.
SIEGEL: And the news that we were talking about, again, is the story The New York Times reports today, that on that list major leaguers who tested positive back in 2004 - a list that has never been publicly released, formally released - among the names on it were those, The Times reports, of Manny Ramirez and, also, David Ortiz, both of the Red Sox in those days.
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