Big Papi and the Quest for Clicks

Big Papi and the Quest for Clicks
May 10, 2013, 1:15 pm
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This may come as a shock, but Dan Shaughnessy wrote a column this week that stirred up some controversy. Amazing how that happens, right? No matter how hard he tries to avoid it . . .

The story is that, on Tuesday afternoon in the Red Sox clubhouse, Shaughnessy asked David Ortiz if he’s on steroids. Well, kind of. Specifically, he approached Ortiz with a series of questions that tip toed around the subject, and told him that he “looked dirty.”

Did you hear the fans in Toronto chanting, “Steroids!’’? What it is like to be suspected? Do you understand why people are suspicious? How can your bat speed be better now than it was when you were 34? Hitting is hard. You’re not supposed to get better with age? How are you doing that?

Shaughnessy also made a correlation between his inability to dunk at 59 and Ortiz hitting a fastball at 37, and eventually Ortiz got angry.

The truth is that asking a player about steroids should not be a big deal in 2013. Given the events of the last 15 years, and the fact that major leaguers continue to test positive for PEDs, players should be asked about it. The best way for the game to eventually move past this ugly era is with an open dialogue. Like with the issue of Gays in Sports, the more we talk about steroids, the less tense and awkward the conversation will become, and the easier it will be to make progress.

In terms of honesty and transparency, the best thing for baseball (aside from continued advancements in testing) is for everyone — player, fans, media — to just accept the reality of the steroids situation. To be respectful, but realize that no matter how unfair it is, or how clean a player might be, in certain situations (and Ortiz’s is one), people are going to talk. Speculation WILL exist. And in those cases, that player should have a chance to defend himself; at this point, he should want to defend himself. As sad as it is, he almost needs to.

The media has received a lot of criticism for its role in what happened to baseball in the late-90 and early 2000s. They’ve been accused of turning a blind eye to the obvious and not asking the questions that they’re expected and paid to ask. And in theory, that’s what Shaughnessy was doing here. He heard the whispers, connected some dots and had the balls to bring up a topic that most writers are afraid to. After all, that’s when media is at its best. When it’s using the access that fans don’t have, to ask the questions that fans do have. Fans still have questions about steroids. They have questions about David Ortiz. So, it should be OK for a reporter to approach a player and say: “Hey, man. People are talking about this. Do you want to respond?”

That’s normal. That’s the goal. To be able to have that conversation without it being blown out of proportion.

But obviously, that’s not what happened between Shaughnessy and Ortiz. And that’s the second part of this story. The difference between what Shaughnessy did — in theory, cut through the BS and give Ortiz a platform to respond — and how he did it. Which was to take what should have been an honest conversation and turn it into a sideshow. To take a topic that we need players to feel comfortable discussing, and create headlines and an atmosphere where they’re now less comfortable.

He didn’t give Ortiz a platform to speak his mind, Shaughnessy put him on the stand. And didn’t bother offering one other ounce of (non-damning) context — not a conversation with trainers, nothing from teammates who’ve been there with him. No mention that it's only been 16 games, which is nothing over the course of a Major League season — in the process of transcribing their conversation into a column.

He made steroids the whole story when in reality it’s only part of it. A wildly unconfirmed one at that. He took a great comeback — after only 16 games! — and sprinkled it with a special brand of dung. And that’s too bad. Especially right now. Less than a month, after the what happened to this city. Less than three weeks after David Ortiz stood with Boston and delivered one of the most honest, heartfelt and inspiring messages of the whole ordeal. You try to embarrass him? Disrespect him? Call everything he is into question?

And you know what, sure — maybe there’s reason to do so. Maybe there are a few things in Papi’s past that make him “suspect” to that kind of questioning. But especially given all that’s happened recently, and the role Ortiz played, Big Papi deserved better. He deserved fair discourse. An honest story instead of a transcribed ambush. To be treated with some respect, and not a pawn in the quest for clicks.

I can’t prove anything, but the decision to do otherwise just looks dirty.