12/02/13 by Rennie Detore
David Ortiz can't stop smiling. That signature, white and wide smile isn't showing signs of shortening any time soon, nor should it. He is a World Series champion and Most Valuable Player, and arguably Boston's favorite son.
A few towns over in New York City, Alex Rodriguez is hardly beloved. Rodriguez is mostly stone faced publicly for what feels like forever, and the only thing "A-Rod" is trying to wipe clean is his image, career and legacy.
Quite the tale of two tremendously talented ball players, and a story that shares plenty of similarities, except for the ending. The most glaring commonality between Ortiz and Rodriguez is that both have had their fair share of negative publicity centering on steroids and performance enhancing drugs for their respective careers.
The only difference is Ortiz survived the controversy and is flourishing post-accusations; Rodriguez probably never will.
That sentiment begs the question: Why is Ortiz essentially forgiven for his alleged steroid use, but Rodriguez is facing a 200-plus game ban?
Rodriguez attended a private high school and signed to play baseball at the University of Miami. Rodriguez had the swagger and look of a star. Even as a teenager, Rodriguez had an athletic build, movie star good looks and one thing that makes fans and detractors equally emphatic about their feelings toward someone: talent.
Rodriguez started his career in Major League Baseball with the Seattle Mariners and quickly rose to prominence based on incredibly power and range at his short stop position. The Texas Rangers quickly took notice of Rodriguez and his ability and signed him as a free agent after the 2000 season to, at the time, a record 10-year contract worth $252 million.
That was only the beginning of high end contracts for Rodriguez, who quickly cemented his status as one of the greatest baseball players of all time. His last season with the Texas Rangers was by far his best, and Rodriguez put the league on notice that he wasn't going anywhere any time soon.
Another team, the New York Yankees, were watching closely and knew that Rodriguez would soon be wearing the pinstripes.
The Yankees undoubtedly are the Rolls Royce of Major League Baseball. The Yankees are synonymous with legendary players, and Rodriguez, with his remarkable numbers, seemed a perfect fit. And, he was. The Rangers traded Rodriguez to the Yankees in 2004.
That young, private school, free swinging and University of Miami standout now was playing for the crown jewel of Major League Baseball. It's only fitting that Rodriguez ended up playing for the New York Yankees, given his incredible pedigree.
That trade of Rodriguez was monumental but not necessarily about the numbers on the field. Rodriguez was a world series champion, signed a 10-year, $275 million contract in 2007 and was en route to the Hall of Fame behind other Yankees' icons like Ruth, Mantle, Gehrig and DiMaggio.
More notably the trade sent into motion the rise of a champion, and the eventual fall of a superstar.
David Ortiz debuted quietly with the Minnesota Twins in 1997. Ortiz went to high school in the Dominican Republic and wasn't surrounded by Rodriguez like hype upon his major league debut. The Twins grew tired of his injuries throughout his career, and he was released five years after he started in Minnesota.
His short career was disappointing. Then, he found a home in 2003 in Boston. In 2004, Ortiz hit his stride and helped the Boston Red Sox win their first World Series championship in more than 80 years. That year was incredibly important for Ortiz on a number of levels. "Big Papi" delivered nearly 40 home runs and close to 140 RBIs. Ortiz found his swing. More importantly, he found a home in Boston.
SUCCESS AND SCRUTINY
That 2004 season from Ortiz came under fire five years later when Ortiz's name found itself on a list of players as part of The Mitchell Report, put together by the federal government that implicated him as a steroid user in 2003 as part of a group of 100 that were tested. Ortiz promised to figure out what happened and denied his involvement in buying or taking steroids.
The combination of Ortiz's early career numbers and a 2004 season that watched his production explode only served as more reason that he, in fact, took steroids. That, along with a noticeably larger build, raised more than a few eyebrows, but those skewed stares at Ortiz seemingly dissipated as years passed, almost as if the reporters who hounded Ortiz previously now politely nodded as they walked past him.
Ortiz would claim years later that no one in Major League Baseball ever officially told him that he was found guilty of using steroids, but his name was on that report, along with other known users like teammate Manny Ramirez. After his monster 2004 season, Ortiz's statistics slipped from an average standpoint but his home runs and runs batted in totals stayed strong.
So did his image.
Rodriguez was flying high after signing his 2007 contract with the New York Yankees. Little did he know, the Yankees would be trying to push him out of New York only six years later. Rodriguez always denied using performance enhancing drugs and did so on a national level any chance he could get. It wasn't until 2009 that Rodriguez said he took steroids while with the Texas Rangers in 2001, but only for two years.
He emphatically stated he never used anything while with the Yankees, using the term "clean" over and over again. Still, the questions continued to abound, even though Rodriguez, circa 2009, committed himself to teaching younger players that steroids weren't the answer for success.
In 2010, more accusations toward Rodriguez arose, culminating with his involvement in the Biogenesis of America in 2013 that pointed a less than favorable finger at the Yankees superstar for receiving Human Growth Hormone (HGH), among other things, from the organization run out of Florida.
It didn't help Rodriguez's pleas of innocence in this matter given that his on field numbers heavily waned, and his injuries began to mount, missing more and more games in the last two seasons. The discontinuation of steroids or HGH often are followed almost exclusively by a rash of injuries.
Rodriguez always carried the stigma of failing to deliver in the postseason. Now, he was failing all the time. Even with the woeful stats, Rodriguez never failed a drug test. His name has been "tied to" the Biogenesis scandal, but that's as far as the proof goes. Yet, he is now appealing a 211 game suspension that is unprecedented. The ban for the first failed drug test is 50 games, so why is he staring down the barrel of a suspension gun that is four times that of the initial penalty, without an actual failed test?
REPRIEVE VS. REDEMPTION
Plenty of questions remain unanswered when you put Ortiz and Rodriguez side by side. The initial question as to why Ortiz is flying high, while Rodriguez has nearly been ground into dust is a valid one.
Ironically, a lot of what makes Rodriguez an easy target centers on his success, wealth, the team he plays for and the general aloof nature he exudes off the field. Rodriguez doesn't look like a player that has much passion or heart when it comes to his craft, but rather a remarkably gifted athlete that happens to play baseball. There's no denying his baseball acumen and expertise but he comes across as arrogant and untouchable, without a shred of self deprecation.
The stories of him signing baseballs for cute girls in the crowd or his dating life with the likes of Cameron Diaz, Madonna or Torrie Wilson often supplants whether he got zero hits or five. Rodriguez isn't a likeable guy. It doesn't help that he's playing for a team, the New York Yankees, that often is associated with privilege, money and winning by buying victories. The same could be said for Rodriguez himself.
The idea of Rodriguez having to serve a 200 game suspension without actually testing positive isn't fair. Baseball can talk all it wants about evidence, paperwork and Rodriguez trying to hide the proof, but the fact remains that he never technically tested positive.
Baseball has chosen to make an example out of the greatest player of his generation. The Yankees play a bigger role in this than you'd like to think. This team isn't protecting Rodriguez but rather pushing him, and his massive salary, out the door.
Society, in general, loves to watch the rise and fall of a superstar such as Rodriguez. The one Rodriguez is experiencing is nothing short of epic, and we simply can't look away.
Not only do a lion's share of fans dislike Rodriguez, but so does baseball and his own team. You're not supposed to feel sorry for Rodriguez at all. He took steroids in 2001; the Biogenesis evidence certainly is incriminating.
But is Rodriguez's stature, personality and alleged connection to PEDs enough to justify what could easily be described as a "witch hunt?" Apparently so.
On the opposite end of the spectrum and a complete 180 degrees away from Rodriguez, sits David Ortiz. If anyone could be positioned as the foil to Rodriguez, Ortiz may fit that bill perfectly, right down to the fact that "Big Papi" plays for the beloved Red Sox, a team that often is viewed as sympathetic in comparison to their rival Yankees.
Ortiz was plucked from the Dominican Republic to play baseball. He's made more than his fair share of money in the sport, but he's seemingly done so quietly and minus the fanfare. Ortiz comes across as a guy you could share a beer with and doesn't mind chatting it up with fans at a moment's notice. He also seems truly grateful that the Red Sox rescued his career off the scrap heap in 2003.
Rodriguez really doesn't give any of those vibes. Not even close. Ortiz and his passion for baseball, and especially his city, almost never are questioned. With Rodriguez, you wonder if he really cares where he plays sometimes as long as the female to male ratio is favorable.
Ortiz's emotional pregame speech after tragic events at the Boston Marathon captivated a city still stinging from heartache and loss following the bombings at the event. Ortiz spoke from his heart and did so not for the press or publicity but because it's how he was feeling at that very moment with a live microphone in his hand.
Even the FCC looked the other way when Ortiz decided to use profanity as part of his rallying cry. The FCC isn't the only entity that gave Ortiz a pass; so did baseball. Ortiz never served so much as one game for his ties to steroids and performance enhancing drugs. Fans, and baseball to a degree, choose in the case of Ortiz to exact a sports tradition: selective memory. Ten years after the Mitchell Report, Ortiz is beloved by the "Boston Strong" and baseball in general.
Is Ortiz's likeability, recent success and tenacity enough to give him a pass when it comes to his past allegations? Apparently so.
GOING, GOING -- HERE TO STAY OR GONE FOR GOOD?
Ortiz occasionally catches a little flack for what he did, or didn't do, in 2003 as part of the aforementioned 2009 steroid allegations. Even as the MVP of the 2013 World Series, Ortiz isn't impervious to criticism for his unbelievable numbers as part of toppling the St. Louis Cardinals. He hit nearly .700 in the series.
But the negative press barely causes Ortiz to flinch or stop grinning from ear to ear, nor does it stick around very long. Maybe a stray mention in a newspaper or from a talk show host trying to create a little buzz might get Ortiz's attention but nothing worth noting.
Instead, Ortiz is busy making the talk show rounds, chatting with David Letterman, being the centerpiece of the Boston Red Sox victory parade and cementing his status as a "Bean Town" legend. Ortiz still has plenty of questions to answer, but no one, including Letterman, seems to be in any rush to ask them. The Hall of Fame talk typically puts Ortiz at 50-50 shot to find his way to Cooperstown.
At least he has a fighting chance.
Fighting is all Rodriguez seems to be doing these days. There's no parade for Rodriguez, except for the one being planned if he should have to serve his suspension and thus perhaps end his much maligned, albeit successful, career as a professional player.
Rodriguez isn't doing much talking, even though the questions directed at him aren't slowing. And Rodriguez won't be sharing a chair next to Letterman any time soon. His luster is all but lost, and he's fighting for a job and Hall of Fame induction that, only a few years ago, was unquestionably secure.
And there certainly isn't a trace of so much as a grin.
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