BOSTON – Jose Bautista is familiar with the controversial Boston Globe column suggesting that David Ortiz’s hot start must be fuelled by performance-enhancing drugs, and he’s not impressed.
The Toronto Blue Jays right-fielder questions the motives of Dan Shaughnessy – who on Wednesday wrote that the Boston Red Sox slugger “looks dirty” and fits “all the formulas” for a cheater – and believes media must show more responsibility when making such allegations.
He also feels the burden of proof for journalists needs to be higher than doubt and disbelief.
“I think it’s a cheap shot and uncalled for to say something like that without having some sort of evidence to back it up,” Bautista said Friday in the visitor’s clubhouse at Fenway Park. “Comments and articles like that is what sometimes makes us wonder what’s the true intention of somebody that’s in the media. It blows my mind that somebody would just go out there and do something like that, and write an article where you’re kind of insinuating, borderline accusing somebody of doing something and you don’t have any evidence to back it up.”
A similar point was also made Friday by Tom Werner in an article written for MLB.com, in which the Red Sox chairman acknowledged media's right to ask difficult questions, when based in fact.
As he put it, "They had the right, but was it right?"
"We're in a new media world, and fact-less accusations stick," he continued. "Those who publicly ask questions must take responsibility for their words."
Connections, deserved or not, between those who perform well and performance-enhancing drugs remain a nasty by-product of baseball's so-called steroid era, when the sport went unmonitored and inflated players posted inflated numbers.
Major League Baseball over the past decade has implemented a progressively tougher testing regimen that now includes Human Growth Hormone, and the program is by far the toughest in North American pro sports.
Still, that's no guarantee the game is clean.
"You can talk and question, but you can't write an article that millions of people read insinuating the fact that he might be doing it, that's not OK," Bautista said. "If that would affect some player's value or leverage against some sort of endorsement deal negotiation or contract negotiation, where does the line cross where it becomes damaging? That person might be liable for it.
"I'm not saying (Ortiz) should go out there and sue this guy, but some people in the media need to be more careful when they choose their words. Or if they're going to say something, then back it up with some sort of evidence."
Bautista went through something similar in the summer of 2010, when Toronto Star columnist Damien Cox in a blog post entitled "Gotta at least ask the question" wondered how the outfielder at 29 evolved into the game's premier home run hitter that summer.
A frenzy erupted even though there was no real evidence against him, just speculation, and he calmly answered the many questions that followed him the rest of the season.
"I had to have a different approach because I was in a contract year, (Ortiz) is not in the same position, so I don't know how he's going to deal with it," Bautista said. "I can tell you right now that if something like that comes out now, I'm certainly going to deal with it in a different way than I dealt with it last time, because I'm not in a contract year anymore, and I don't have to watch what I say as closely because it might hurt my negotiations.
"I think it's ridiculous that people like that are allowed to just throw out stuff about you in the media and not have any responsibility for what those repercussions might be."
Among them is the logical leap that baseball's testing program isn't able to detect Ortiz's cheating, and that no player can defy age.
Both bother Bautista, who sometimes works out with Ortiz during the off-season and describes his opponent as a great baseball player that has worked hard and prepared hard throughout his career.
"This person is not only insulting David Ortiz, but is also undermining MLB's credibility to have a strict steroid policy and a performance-enhancing drug system in place," Bautista said. "You're making a comment like that, he's probably doing something illegal, so you're saying our testing system doesn't work and it sucks?
"And other players in their 40s shouldn't be playing baseball, either? I can throw a number of names of Major League Baseball players that were successful in their 40s, what does that mean? There are guys in their teens playing, how do you explain that? Baseball is not only a game about physical ability, there's no way in your teens you're a mature hitter, that at the MLB level you can make the adjustments consistently that are necessary to play 162 games and enjoy sustainable success. But guys do it. Are you going to question that, too?
"To me, he's just trying to ruffle the feathers and get a kick out of it. That's what I think."