David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
It's been more than a month since Robinson Cano has faced any PED-related grilling from the media, but seeing the early-May inquisition of his friend David Ortiz reminded him all over again.
Since October, when a misguided reporter from a Charlotte-based TV station tweeted that a Cano PED suspension was imminent, the Yankees second baseman has faced three different rounds of questioning. None of it substantive, only whispers of implied connections to Biogenesis when his spokeswoman appeared on a similar list to ones that also included friends Alex Rodriguez and Melky Cabrera.
Cano already has been forced numerous times to deny any involvement with Biogenesis, even though he has not appeared on any list or tested positive for PEDs. Ortiz, who is in the Bronx this weekend with the Red Sox, was put on a similar trial last month when Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy suggested that the slugger "looks dirty.''
Shaughnessy's reasoning was based on Ortiz's resurgence this season, at age 37 and coming off injuries that often are tied with past steroid use. He also brought up a Dominican link, which especially angered Ortiz.
Cano also is Dominican but has not faced the same treatment. He understands, however, that the finger pointing and witch hunts are part of the game now. When asked about Ortiz's recent ordeal and how it compared with his own, Cano noted that his was even more ridiculous because he was supposed to be suspended "in hours.'' Turns out it was debunked in a matter of minutes.
"People make allegations,'' Cano said before Friday's game. "It's like when somebody says that you steal something, you know what I mean? But what can you say? Nowadays, people can say whatever they want.''
And do so without repercussions, apparently. The Charlotte TV reporter did publicly apologize, and his employer made an undisclosed donation to Cano's foundation, but Cano was left to fend off whatever accusations, however flimsy, might occasionally bubble up to the surface of the PED swamp.
"It does bother me,'' Cano said. "But I know what I'm doing and what's going on, so the only thing you can do is not pay attention to those people.''
Cano doesn't reveal much. But that morsel of insight shows that his feelings are not bulletproof to rumors and speculation. Ortiz wasn't quite as tight-lipped when it happened to him. He refused to contain his rage at what he deemed a racist attack and launched his own counterstrike earlier this month to a Spanish-language radio station.
"The guy came to see me and asked some questions about steroids, and when you see the writing, it basically focuses on the fact that I'm Dominican and that many Dominicans have been caught using steroids. And what about the Americans?'' Ortiz told ESPN Deportes. "If you're from the Middle East, because there are some people there who put bombs and terrorize civilians, I have to see you like that as well? If you are a white American, I have to call you a racist because white Americans were in the Ku Klux Klan?
"The thing that stung me was his statement about Dominicans. You mean that in the Dominican Republic, there are no players who try to do things right? We are all in the same boat. And the people here who have been caught, does that put everyone here in the same boat?''
Ortiz is right. But the unfair treatment goes way beyond that. Major League Baseball has a strict PED testing policy in place, one that now includes in-season screening for human growth hormone, and it's considered to be the most extensive in professional sports.
"You know we get tested a lot,'' Cano said.
Under such a program, players should be afforded the presumption of innocence until there is some tangible proof of guilt, be it a positive test or an undisputable paper trail connecting them to PEDs. In Ortiz's case, a reporter lit the fuse for suspicion and then supplied the fuel, as well, basically because he was hitting .426 (23-for-54) with nine doubles and four homers through the first 14 games.
The great start was surprising, considering that Ortiz missed all of spring training. But it was still a small sample size, and nothing is more misleading in baseball than making judgments based on what amounts to snippets of performance.
Heading into this weekend series, Ortiz had dropped to .336, as might have been expected. He followed up that early April outburst with two doubles and five homers in the next 22 games. Though that's hardly an aberration for one of the most dangerous DHs in the game's history, any spikes in performance seem to trigger the PED sirens these days.
That puts players such as Cano and Ortiz on the defensive and having to fight their own battles, real or imagined. They tend to be bigger deals in their respective media markets, but Ortiz -- a Boston icon -- believes his buddy Cano, a pending free agent, is well-equipped to handle whatever comes his way in New York.
"He's going to stay there,'' Ortiz said Friday. "He's a franchise guy and he's doing what he's supposed to do. He's the face of that franchise right now.''