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Saturday, August 8, 2009
Ortiz apologizes for 'distraction'

ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- David Ortiz believes then-legal supplements and vitamins likely caused him to land on a 2003 list of alleged drug users seized by the federal government, and Major League Baseball and the players' association said some of the players on the list never tested positive for performance-enhancing substances.

MLB said in a statement Saturday that 96 urine samples, at most, tested positive in the 2003 survey -- and the players' association said 13 of those were in dispute.

The government seized the samples and records of 104 players from baseball's drug-testing companies in 2004 as part of the BALCO investigation into Barry Bonds and others. The list of players said to have tested positive, attached to a grand jury subpoena, is part of a five-year legal fight, with the union trying to force the government to return what federal agents took during raids.

"I definitely was a little bit careless back in those days when I was buying supplements and vitamins over the counter -- legal supplements, legal vitamins over the counter -- but I never buy steroids or use steroids," Ortiz said during a news conference that began about 3½ hours before his Boston Red Sox played the New York Yankees.

"I never thought that buying supplements and vitamins, it was going to hurt anybody's feelings."

The New York Times reported last month that Ortiz and Manny Ramirez were on the 2003 list and said earlier that Sammy Sosa was on it. In February, Sports Illustrated reported Alex Rodriguez was on it, and Rodriguez later admitted he had used performance-enhancing substances from 2001 to 2003.

Michael Weiner
Union general counsel Michael Weiner, left, said the MLBPA couldn't tell Ortiz if he had tested positive, only that he was on the 2003 list.

Ortiz said when he met with union lawyer Michael Weiner in 2004, he wasn't told he tested positive for steroids. Weiner, who has been designated to succeed union head Donald Fehr, said that because the list is under court seal, the union couldn't confirm to Ortiz that he tested positive, only that he was on the list.

"I want to apologize to fans for the distraction, my teammates, our manager," Ortiz said, flanked by Weiner, with Boston manager Terry Francona standing behind and to the side. "This past week has been a nightmare to me."

Some players past and present -- notably Hall of Famer Hank Aaron -- have called for the entire list to be released.

"Sure, there are some people who say 'Why don't we just get this story over with and get the list out?'" Weiner said. "I think to do that would one, be illegal, and two, be wrong. It's illegal because it's covered by court order, and it would be wrong because a promise was made by the commissioner's office and the union to every player who was tested in 2003 that the results would be anonymous."

Ortiz is against the list becoming public.

"I don't think that I would really like to see another player going through what I've been through this past week," he said.

I don't think that I would really like to see another player going through what I've been through this past week.

-- David Ortiz, on why he doesn't believe the list should be made public

Said Francona: "I was very proud of the way David handled himself, which shouldn't be a surprise. It's been a long 10 days for him. And as David spoke and Michael spoke, it became more apparent, some of the things that David was dealing with. When we asked for patience, there was a lot of things explained, why there needed to be patience."

Ortiz said he has tested negative about 15 times since 2004, when baseball's drug-testing program included penalties, and has tested negative for the World Baseball Classic.

The Red Sox issued a statement backing their slugger.

"There are substantial uncertainties and ambiguity surrounding the list of 104 names," the Red Sox said. "David Ortiz is a team leader, and his contributions on the field and in the community have earned him respect and a special place in the hearts of Red Sox Nation."

Ortiz said the report that he was on the list weighed on him -- since it came out July 30, he is batting .188 with two homers and six RBIs, part of a season-long slump.

"This past week, I've been really confused and frustrated," he said. "I started looking for answers, and nobody gives me an answer."

Citing court orders, Weiner wouldn't say whether the union asked courts to authorize an investigation into the leaks, which it claims are illegal. New York Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis did not respond to an e-mail and telephone message seeking comment.

Weiner did say if the union wins the legal fight to have the records returned -- a fight that may end up before the Supreme Court -- it likely would comply with requests from players on the list to tell them what they were said to have used.

Sure, there are some people who say, 'Why don't we just get this story over with and get the list out?' ... It's illegal because it's covered by court order, and it would be wrong because a promise was made by the commissioner's office and the union to every player who was tested in 2003 that the results would be anonymous.

-- MLBPA general counsel Michael Weiner

"Given the uncertainties inherent in the list, we urge the press and the public to use caution in reaching conclusions based on leaks of names, particularly from sources whose identities are not revealed," Major League Baseball said in a statement.

Three U.S. District Courts have sided with the union, saying the material must be returned by the government. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the prosecutors, but that decision was thrown out and 11 judges from the 9th Circuit heard arguments last December. A decision is pending.

Weiner said Ortiz had been put in a difficult position.

"His reputation has been called into question. He does not know specifically why. And he can't get the information that would allow him to offer a full explanation," Weiner said.

The 2003 survey was designed to determine whether baseball needed mandatory random drug testing with penalties starting in 2004, with a 5 percent threshold for positives triggering future testing. Although the exact number of 2003 positives was subject to dispute, the sides never worked that out because they agreed the percentage was over the threshold.

"Substantial scientific questions exist as to the interpretation of some of the 2003 test results," Weiner said. "The more definitive methods that are utilized by the lab that administers the current drug agreement were not utilized by the lab responsible for the anonymous testing program in 2003."

Under the rules of the 2003 testing, Weiner said "legally available nutritional supplements could trigger an initial 'positive' test under our program."

In the statement, he also elaborated on how the 2003 survey tests were conducted. According to Weiner, each test consisted of two sample collections. The first was random and unannounced. The second was taken seven days later, with the player advised to "cease taking supplements during the interim."

"Under the 2003 program, a test could be initially reported as 'positive,' but not treated as such by the bargaining parties on account of the second test," Weiner said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.