BALTIMORE -- For David Ortiz, this may be one of the lasting scars from September's collapse, that the Boston Red Sox clubhouse was portrayed as a place where there were few, if any, leaders to be found.
Worse yet is the idea that it was no different this season.
Understand, then, that Ortiz's first reaction was suspicion when he was asked Monday night, after he'd hit a home run onto Eutaw Street beyond the right-field fence in Camden Yards in an 8-6 Boston victory, about the team meeting he called on May 11, in the midst of the uproar over Josh Beckett's golf game.
"Who told you about that meeting?" he said.
Told that it had already been reported, Ortiz did not reveal details, other than in general terms, about what was said in the course of the meeting.
But as the player with the most seniority in the Red Sox clubhouse now that Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek have retired, Ortiz minced few words in describing how insulting he finds it to be dismissed as lacking leadership qualities -- not only by the media, but by the people running the team.
"Well, let me tell you, I was reading an article [that] talked about the leaders people call 'leaders' in this town," he said. "Basically, it seems like no matter what you do, it's not good enough.
"And you can only call leaders the guys who are out diving for balls on the field or calling pitches behind the plate?"
That would seem to be a direct reference to Varitek, who was the team's captain, and to Dustin Pedroia, often mentioned as a possible successor to Varitek as captain.
"No. 1, I don't agree with that," Ortiz said. "And No. 2, what I do I don't do for people to know. I do it for my teammates, to get to know things better. I don't give a [expletive] about anybody knowing what we talk about, No. 1. And No. 2, I don't give a [expletive] what they call leaders."
Shortstop Mike Aviles, for one, had praised Ortiz for calling the team meeting, after which the Red Sox have won nine of 11 games. "He's a leader, he's a leader," Aviles said Sunday. "And when you have a leader like that call a meeting, [he] basically says, 'Let's go, let's step this up and get where we need to be.'"
But that perception of Ortiz is not typically shared outside of the clubhouse. Oh, much has been made about Ortiz as a beloved teammate and a unifying bridge between the team's Anglo and Latin players, but leader? Not so much, which Ortiz -- who is 36 and in his 20th year of playing professional baseball -- says only reflects the ignorance of those making that judgment.
"What they call leaders is not what a leader is all about," he said. "They need to go to the dictionary and find out what the word 'leader' means. You know what I'm saying? The leaders they call leaders are the ones who get in front of the crowd and try to lead them. But that's not the case here.
"I'm the kind of [expletive] who worries about winning games. I'm a winner. I hate losing. But what I do, I don't do for everybody to know. I do it for us to get better, and the trash talking out there to stop."
Ortiz insists it doesn't matter if he's called a leader, but the topic clearly rankles him.
"I don't give a [expletive] if they want to call me a leader. I don't give a [expletive] if they want to call me a captain. I don't give a [expletive] if they call me either of them. Because you know what? I always say I came to play this game and one day I'm going to be gone. And as long as I play, I'm going to try to do good. I'm going to try to do whatever it takes to win ballgames."
To Ortiz, there is a lack of respect for what he has tried to do in his decade here.
"I don't get no respect," he said. "Not from the media. Not from the front office. What I do is never the right thing. It's always hiding, for somebody to find out."
Though he did not mention it, it still stings Ortiz that the Red Sox were unwilling to sign him to a two-year contract extension, instead coming to an agreement on a one-year, $14.75 million deal just prior to an arbitration hearing.
Ortiz also said he was criticized for not calling a meeting earlier.
"Somebody wrote, 'Why didn't he do it earlier?' Earlier? When am I going to do it, in spring training?
What did I do wrong? Seriously, what did I do wrong?
"You hit 54 home runs, then hit 35, it's not good enough. How many people hit 35? Never good enough, bro. That's why I don't care.
"What I care about is the respect of my teammates, the [expletives] who know that we need to play the game better, worry about what we got to do, and that's about it. They respect that. We talked and then we go about our business afterward. I don't care about anything else."
So did the message take?
"That's what I care about," he said, nodding. "We're playing better, we're winning, everybody is going about their business. And it's still May. Not late, like [some critics] want to say."