What I still find a little odd is that it was the only time I sat down to watch sports news during my whole vacation, and I just happened to flip on SportsCenter at the home of a friend I was visiting right at the moment it flashed BREAKING NEWS...
Before yesterday, I was still on hiatus from this site because I still hadn't quite summoned the courage to write the somewhat overdramatic, somewhat maudlin, reaction post to the news about David Ortiz being on the 2003 "steroid list".
Because let's face it, when that news plopped, steaming, into the midst of my vacation, my first gut response was more than a little dramatic and emotional - I retired to the guest room of my friend's house, sat down on the bed, and for the second time in my life, I cried about baseball.
I was crying because I believed this to be the first step in an A-Rod / Andy Pettitte style 'roids scandal, where we had to listen to the one player I've always known I couldn't handle looking at this way tell us in an excruciating press conference how he'd been lying all along, and that he was just as big a juicer, cheater, and worst of all, liar, as the rest of the idols who have tumbled from their pedestals in recent years. I looked at this as the beginning of the end.
Even now, I still feel it's a turning point, and I still feel the sense I had, which filled me with sadness, remains correct. Once this Pandora's box is opened on any slugger, it never fully closes. There are too many people out there who want to believe Papi juiced every bit as much as I don't want to believe it, and the mere allegation is all that's needed to change the discussion around his name, forever.
While turning over that post in my mind, I also made the rounds checking others' reactions. As usual in moments of baseball hell, one of the most comforting things is the realization that you're not alone in your misery. I was surprised that my cousin, a Twins fan, was the only person to even attempt to talk trash with me about it - after fielding an angry nation's reaction to SpyGate over at MVN after Super Bowl XLII, I had been expecting a similar in-your-face experience when the news broke about Ortiz.
Instead, what I saw was depression much like my own, even from people not invested in the Red Sox.
"A sad day for baseball," texted a friend of mine who's a Yankees fan. SI called Ortiz 'baseball's first cuddly doper' in a surprisingly gentle one-page editorial. Shaughnessy didn't even waste a day, so I heard, disowning the 04 and 07 World Series, but the general reaction seemed to be apathy, tinged with only the faintest traces of malaise, many of those coming from Red Sox fans in anguish about the news and its implications.
Even the normally humorous Surviving Grady showed a grave mood, with a post from Denton that concluded, "I've never felt so disillusioned about something I love as I feel about baseball right now." Really, at that point in time, this did not feel like an overstatement of any kind. (No crying in baseball, my ass).
I may not have written here for even longer than I had planned, but I've spent most of my non-work time in the last week ruminating on this situation, working out the implications, drawing lines for myself in the sand. Discussing and turning this over with anyone I could get to listen, Red Sox fans and non-Red Sox fans alike.
The first thing I determined unequivocally was that, even if David Ortiz were found to have undeniably shot steroids into his ass throughout 2004 (something the league's test results purportedly refute), you can't just disown the World Series. As Joy of Sox put it:
The games were the games. The results and records are final -- and absolutely legitimate. The Red Sox won the 2004 World Series. The Yankees won the 2000 World Series. The Reds won the 1919 World Series.
Even if I were to disown the World Series out of an intellectual sense that it was the right thing to do, it would feel fake. I just can't go there. As I put it the first time people were running around screaming about how the 2004 and 2007 World Series were now (poof!) invalid because Manny was suspended from the Dodgers:
Maybe self-righteous rage is the point of sports for some people. Maybe there are some people who believe that, through some magical transference, the abilities and, ideally, unimpeachable sportsmanship of athletes reflect on the people who buy a ticket to watch them play.
If I were to insist everything about my pastimes were completely in line with the most exacting moral standards, lest I be called out as a hypocrite by some stranger on the Internet, I'd live a miserable life indeed. It's cliche, but at the end of the day, life is just too friggin' short to imagine burning all my Red Sox memorabilia in the back yard because the New York Times says some unnamed sources say David Ortiz's name is on a list somewhere of people who did banned substances. Who really lives their life that way?
But that all did little to lessen the inherent suckitude of the situation. What still had me tied up in knots was the fact of who it was. Call me naive, in denial, drinking the Kool-Aid, whatever, but even knowing the nature of the era, I had still held out hope that Ortiz would be one of the few MLB star hitters not connected to PEDs in any way, and one of the few Red Sox superstars who finishes his career here on the same glowing terms under which it began. I had held out hope that just once, as cherished a figure as Boston's Big Papi could remain unambiguously loved.
Even after the statements yesterday, which changed the whole picture all over again in my mind, I don't know that I can regain the same hope and trust and personal investment in Papi that I had before this. At the very least, it's going to take quite a while. And that in itself is enough to break my heart, even if it's not as broken as it theoretically could be.
I know he's a professional athlete I've never met. I know that being a fan is really about rooting for the laundry, the Interior Stadium, and all that. But Ortiz had been an exception to that hard-learned rule. I keep a picture of him in each room of my apartment as well as next to my desk at work, because looking at him has always made me smile. What could be bad about something like that? I've reasoned.
Now I know - you leave yourself vulnerable to a week like I've had this last week, a week where it felt like a small but significant light in my day-to-day life had gone out. A week, baseball-wise, worse than any I can remember since October 2003.
Then came yesterday's press conference, and the statement by the MLB Player's Assocation.
This is where "Part 2" of this incident begins. Both Papi and the union's statements yesterday surprised me - I was really expecting an A-Rod-style Press Conference of Shame followed by an old-fashioned savaging of everything I hold dear about the Red Sox by the same national audience that brought us SpyGate (and yes, as you can tell, I remain somewhat traumatized by that whole affair).
Instead, yesterday's statements threw me for another loop, making me feel both better and worse at the same time. Better because no previous accused juicer has been backed as strongly, that I can recall, by the players' union. Better, obviously, because between Papi's claim that a legal supplement caused him to test positive and the MLBPA's statement on the testing process, it seems there's more gray area here than the original NYT story and overwrought ESPN follow-up reporting indicated.
But here's where, as Shaughnessy--ever the voice of the Devil on Red Sox Nation's shoulder--rightly points out (and yes, I did give his column my biannual read in my parents' dead-tree copy of the Globe this afternoon) that now, it's become all about what you want to believe.
So it also made me feel worse, because of the way these suspicions and accusations always take on a life of their own, because the mere existence of this question mark means it will hang over Papi's head from now on. And because having gotten a taste of this experience, this feeling of betrayal, this sense of having been made to look like a fool just for loving a player in the Steroid Era...the only thing I can imagine worse than that feeling is having to go through it all over again.
I'd spent the last week sad; I spent yesterday pissed off.
Do I continue to believe in Ortiz, only to eventually -- maybe even probably -- be kicked in the teeth for real? Or do I get a head start now building up some distance, some defense mechanisms, after this week of suspicion, and potentially rob myself of joy for no reason?
Even as I ask myself these questions, as a Red Sox fan, I already know what I will do.