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David Ortiz said he never knowingly used steroids and that over-the-counter supplements and vitamins likely caused him to land on a list of alleged drug users circulated by the federal government.
Major League Baseball and the players' union said just because a player's name was on the list didn't mean he used steroids.
"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 31/2 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."
MLB said in a statement Saturday that at most 96 urine samples tested positive in the 2003 survey — and the players' association said 13 of those were in dispute.
The New York Times reported last month that Ortiz and Manny Ramirez were on the list and said in June that Sammy Sosa was on it. In February, Sports Illustrated reported Alex Rodriguez was on the list, and Rodriguez later admitted using Primobolan from 2001-03.
Ortiz said that when he met with union general counsel 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 can't confirm to Ortiz that he tested positive, only that he was on the list.
"We had this five-minute meeting, and it was a little confusing but I was never told that I test(ed) positive for steroids," Ortiz said.
Dr. Gary Wadler, who heads the committee that determines the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned-substances list, said Ortiz's explanation was believable, given that before January 2005 many over-the-counter substances could cause positive tests.
"It's entirely conceivable that he was caught up in the same mentality of taking dietary supplements such as protein powders and creatine, believing he was safe as far as drug testing," Wadler said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
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 1) be illegal, and 2) 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.
The government seized the samples and records in 2004 from baseball's drug-testing companies as part of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative investigation into Barry Bonds and others. The list of 104 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.
Ortiz said he purchased the supplements in both the United States and the Dominican Republic, and that he tested negative about 15 times since baseball's program with penalties began in 2004 and additional times for the World Baseball Classic.
"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."
Two MLB officials — including senior vice president and general counsel for labor Dan Halem — sat in the audience for the news conference, and the Red Sox issued a statement backing Ortiz.
"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 .171 with two homers and six RBIs, part of a season-long slump that's left his average at .219.
"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.
Weiner did say that if the union wins the legal fight to have the records returned, which 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.
"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 survey was designed to determined whether baseball needed mandatory random drug testing with penalties starting in 2004, with a 5 percent threshold for positives triggering future testing. While 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. The collective bargaining parties did not pursue definitive answers regarding these inconclusive results, since those answers were unnecessary to the administration of the 2003 program."
Each of the 1,438 tests in 2003 were actually two tests — an initial sample and a follow-up five-to-seven days later designed to screen out then-legal substances, such as androstenedione. While both tests needed to be positive under baseball's program, it's possible the government is counting single positives.
"I was very proud of the way David handled himself," Francona said. "I know it's been a long 10 days for him."
This program aired on August 8, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.
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