Positive tests no longer surprising

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There are few surprises left when it comes to baseball and steroids. We've been over this enough times. The newest report names Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. OK. What are we supposed to do, act shocked? Who would shock you now? At this point, the only person I'm entirely certain never used steroids is my hero, Duane Kuiper, who hit one home run in his lengthy career, and that one homer was wind-blown.

I know in my heart that Kuip never used. For everyone else, there's the old Mel Brooks lyric: "Hope for the best, expect the worst."

So, no surprises, except for this: I'm constantly surprised that players who apparently have used steroids will tell such incredibly bold and fantastic lies. Sure, it's human nature to lie in order to protect yourself. Presidents do it. People of faith do it. Even educated fleas do it. But why some athletes go SO FAR out of their way to say these absurd things ... that part remains baffling.

Think about this: Why did Rafael Palmeiro not even wait for a question and instead point at the camera and say, boldly, "I have never used steroids, period?" Why did Alex Rodriguez not only deny using steroids to Katie Couric but then give that weak "I've never felt overmatched on the baseball field" explanation? Why did Roger Clemens insist on having his day in front of a Congressional hearing only to later find himself being investigated for possibly lying under oath?

No, I don't get it. Look, there was little shock or awe when The New York Times quoted anonymous lawyers* who said that Ramirez and Ortiz were two of the 104 people who tested positive for baseball's infamous and "anonymous" drug survey in 2003.

*I don't want this to sound wrong because I obviously respect journalists who are able to get true information and break news. And I fully embrace our responsibility to protect sources. But how can anyone respect the lawyers and others who are leaking names in clear contempt of court? I mean, nobody can hide behind Watergate here -- this isn't exactly an issue of national gravity. They're leaking names of BASEBALL PLAYERS who tested positive for steroids in an ANONYMOUS TEST taken back in 2003. Hard to see how they're serving the public good here.

And now you hear people saying that since the names will get leaked out anyway, baseball should just release the entire list and be done with it. That sounds fine except ... the lists have been leaked unethically and perhaps illegally. The players took those tests with the expressed understanding that they would remain anonymous and the results would be destroyed. And their rights are being trampled. Maybe deceitful leaking is not as interesting a story as the latest big name user. But it's hard to understand how so much anger can be spilled over athletes who took performance enhancers so they could play their sport better and so little is over self-interested people who are underhandedly and perhaps unlawfully giving out names.

No, nobody could be too stunned about this MannyBManny and Big Papi report. Ramirez has only recently returned from a 50-game suspension for violating drug policy.

And Ortiz? Well, looking back, his story sure reads like the prototypical steroid story you would see in Hollywood. He was a large and slow player without a defensive position. He was a player to be named later in a Dave Hollins trade. He hit 58 home runs in the first 455 games of his career. He was released by the Minnesota Twins when he was 27 years old. His career was very much on the brink.

And then ... 31 home runs ... 41 home runs ... 47 home runs ... 54 home runs. His on-base percentages skyrocketed. He became Big Papi, the Clutch Creature, the Wizard of Walk-off Homers. He would spit on his hands, clasp them together, bang long home runs and then point to his mother Angela RosaArias in heaven as he stomped on home plate. He led Boston to its first World Series championship in 86 years, then a second championship three years after that, and it was a beautiful story.

Hope for the best. Expect the worst.

Knowing what we now know, suspecting what we now suspect, no, it would be disingenuous to say that there was no way anyone could see a Big Papi steroid charge coming. But the question is: Why would he say all the goofy things he said leading up to this? Why would he make that comment about how all anyone would find in him is rice and beans? Why would he, five months ago, talk about how all players should be tested relentlessly and say that players who test positive should be banned for a year? Why would he so boldly stand out on this issue when he tested positive in 2003?

I don't know what it is ... people around the game seem to wonder if maybe Ortiz did not know he tested positive in '03 or if maybe he tested positive because of something he unknowingly took or something like that. But that sounds like an excuse.

Is it hypocrisy? Self-delusion? Arrogance? I don't know. Maybe it's only this: For so long, baseball players were led to believe that there was nothing really wrong about taking performance-enhancing drugs. There was no testing. The baseball rules about steroids were fuzzy at best. The chances of getting caught were slim and none. And the sense was that if you wanted to compete in this new game, you needed to do something. There was probably a lot of winking during the Selig Era.

And so maybe after all that, players simply convinced themselves that they weren't doing anything wrong. Hey, they were only doing what they had to do to play the game well every day for a long season. Hey, they were only trying to come back from injury or trying to stay in the game a little longer. Hey, they were working out hard. Hey, they were only trying to compete with other players who, they suspected (and knew), were juicing.

Then, when the tide turned and steroid-users became pariahs and Mark McGwire's Hall of Fame case shriveled and died, well, maybe athletes wanted to run from their pasts as fast as they could. Maybe their eyes just opened wide. Who could blame them? It's hard to keep up with the great American climate. I'm sure 2003 seems like a lifetime ago for Ortiz. I'm sure he has regrets. And I'm sure he hoped that no one would ever find out. Now, his name is out there, and he will never again be able to tell that joke about how he's all rice and beans.

No, all he can say is what he did say on Thursday: "I'm not talking about that anymore."