Ortiz: ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be a Hall of Famer’

An expanded transcript of the interview I conducted Friday with Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz for FOX Sports 1. A video excerpt can be seen above.

Q: Not to bring up a bad memory, but last year, what the heck happened to this team?

A: A lot of things happened. But one of the main things that hurt this ballclub the most was injuries. Injuries always are the No. 1 enemy of every ballclub. Last year we struggled because of it. We struggled badly offensively. And our pitching was (inconsistent). We had a lot of ups and downs. It’s hard to compete like that.

Q: How much of a difference will it make for you in the lineup to have Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, a healthy Pedroia, a healthy Victorino, a healthy Napoli?

A: It’s going to make a huge difference. Last year we had the big struggle with injuries. Pedroia struggled with injuries. Nap struggled with injuries. Even myself toward the end, I had a wrist problem. When you have pretty much the center of the lineup going through all those injuries, it’s hard to recover from the struggles we had offensively last year. Hopefully that’s not the case now. Everyone is healthy now. And you’ve got more thunder coming into the lineup.

Q: Now about you. You’re 39. How much differently do you need to prepare now than you did when you were younger. You look great. But what is the difference?

A: I know your body, as you get older, demands more if you want to keep up with the game, which is hard to do. I keep on pushing myself hard to come in and keep things at the same level. It’s hard. I don’t fool myself. I know I’m not the guy I was 4-5-6 years ago. But mentally, I get prepared. And I don’t put a lot of stress on myself.

I try to keep it humble, just come in and have good relationships with my teammates. Things aren’t boring for me. I’m always having fun. That’s what makes thing easier, better than just being this grumpy older player that wants to be giving a hard time to everyone. I don’t like players who do that as they get older.

I like having fun. I want the young guys to feel comfortable around me. And I try to keep up with ’em. They laugh at me sometimes, but I don’t really care. I like to keep the competition alive. My boy (Mookie) Betts — he’s always making fun of me, always calling me names. I love it. The most important thing is when younger guys feel comfortable around a guy like myself. That gives them confidence.

Q: You just said it. You love the clubhouse. You love being around the guys. We can’t see into the future. We don’t know how long you’re going to play. That said, how difficult will it be for you when it is time to retire, when it is time, finally, to step away?

AROUND THE HORN

A: I don’t think it’s going to be that hard. My career has gone beyond what I expected. I know I’m playing extra time — overtime. That’s why I try to enjoy it. There’s going to be a point where I’m going to have to "take it to the house." When that happens, I’m going to be more than happy. I never thought my career would be this long. That’s why I try to take nothing for granted.

I play. I try to win. I try my best. When the time is over, that’s what you can take home — having great relationships with everyone that was around you. Reporters, your teammates, front office, the fans, that’s what matters to me. When I’m done with the game, I want people to say that I was a better human being than a player.

Q: Pace of play. You had some interesting things to say about the new rule requiring hitters to keep one foot in the batter’s box. That said, do you understand what Major League Baseball wants to do in speeding up the game? Do you think it’s a good idea?

A: I totally understand how they want to speed up the game. What I don’t understand is, why do you want to speed up the game, killing the nature of the game? The times I’ve heard about speeding up the game, it’s always related to batters. The other day, what got me angry is that.

If you look around the whole game, the batter is not the only one wasting time. I can tell you 10 things right now that we waste time on during the game besides the batter. Basically, I want them to focus on the other things. If you look at the game, the most difficult thing is hitting the ball. Then you want to make it harder on us as hitters? I don’t buy into that.

IT'S OUTTA HERE!

I respect MLB. We are part of MLB. We are MLB. But there are some other things in the game that waste more time than what we do, the one minute to three minutes we spend in the batter’s box, which all depends upon how many pitches you see, how many balls you foul off, going in and out of the box. I’ll tell you what, I’m one of the faster ones, getting in and out of the box. You’ve got to look at that . . .

Q: I don’t know if the stats say that.

(Ortiz took 25.2 seconds between pitches last season, the 16th highest average in the majors, according to Fangraphs.com. Hanley Ramirez was first at 28.1).

A: I don’t waste time. I come in and come out. I take my time when I go deep, I’m not going to lie to you. But that’s me. When I hit a ball over the fence, I don’t feel like I have to rush. But other than that, I get in the box. I’m ready when the pitcher is ready. The only time you see me taking longer in the box is when I hit a ball off my foot, something like that, there’s nothing you can do about it.

I’m not complaining about the rules, staying in the box or not. I’m complaining about every time they want to cut the time off, they focus on the hitters. We ain’t the problem.

I’m not complaining about the rules, staying in the box or not. I’m complaining about every time they want to cut the time off, they focus on the hitters. We ain’t the problem.

Q: There might be a pitch clock coming. They’re going to try one at Double A and Triple A.

A: Hopefully. Pitchers take time, too. They go around the mound. They shake (off) pitches like crazy. They want to talk to the catcher all the time. You have the pitching coach in between pitches to talk to. There is no hitting coach coming to talk to me when I’m hitting.

Pretty much every time I go to hit, I have either the catcher talking to the pitcher, or the pitching coach talking to the pitcher. That takes time. They should have a (restricted) amount of visits to the mound, for the catcher and for the pitching coach. You can go no more than — just to give a number — four times to the mound. After that, you guys talk on the bench. That will save you time.

Q: With this rule, what will happen to you if you have to keep one foot in the batter’s box? How much will that affect you as a hitter?

A: I will say that it will take some focus away. That ain’t our nature. When you have to stay in the box and wait for the pitcher to do whatever he has to do . .  . if we start this rule with hitters, you won’t be focusing on what’s next. You’ll be focusing on staying the box, because that’s the rule.

I don’t know how it’s going play out. Now, I’m not going to change my game. I’m trying to win ballgames. I’m trying to do the best for my team, my teammates and everyone else. There are a whole bunch of fans who pay lots of money to watch you do what you do. We’ve got to respect that, too.

‘I’ve got no problem with Alex,’ David Ortiz says. ‘I think the guy needs to, I guess, have better people around him, or better people doing things for him. He’s not a bad person.’

Q: Alex Rodriguez. There has been some back and forth between you and him lately. Over a year ago, one of his attorneys at the time went on the radio and implied that you were a guy who used PEDs. He later said he wasn’t referring to you. With Alex, you guys were once very close. Will you ever forgive him?

A: I’ve got no problem with Alex. I think the guy needs to, I guess, have better people around him, or better people doing things for him. He’s not a bad person. I think the decisions that have been going on, the people around him who have been making decisions, have put the guy in a bad position.

THE 500-HOME RUN CLUB

What can I tell you? It happens. But at the stage we are at, you’ve got to play it out better. In my case, I’m always going to wish him the best. Things happen for a reason. (But) on my side, I’m not going to have one of my people pointing a finger at him. That’s not my style.

I control my side. I control my people. He should do the same thing with the people who are around him. Control what they say, or what they do. In the world we live in today, it can take you 20 years to get to the top, but it can take you five minutes to go to the bottom. We’ve got to be careful.

But I’m always going to wish him the best and hopefully he bounces back after this couple of year he has been dealing with things and goes back to normal and makes the Yankee fans believe in him for the next few years he has left in the contract.

Q: You talked about going from top to bottom. You remember in 2009 when your name appeared on that list of players who had tested positive. At the time that you tested positive, in 2003, there were no penalties. That list was supposed to stay confidential under court order. And the union issued a statement saying that there were some issues with these tests.

As a Hall of Fame candidate, you know that players with links to PEDs have had a lot of trouble getting in. What would be your reaction if that test held you back?

I don’t know if I’m going to be a Hall of Famer, to be honest. That’s not up to me. I’ve just got to keep doing what I’ve got to do on the field. But in case that happens, I don’t think it’s going to be fair.

A: I don’t know if I’m going to be a Hall of Famer, to be honest. That’s not up to me. I’ve just got to keep doing what I’ve got to do on the field. But in case that happens, I don’t think it’s going to be fair.

First of all, when that happened, nobody had an answer for me. I was just another athlete, just like everyone else. I used to go to GNC, buy supplements, just like everyone else. If I test positive for something I buy at GNC, I don’t consider myself caught. That’s what everybody used to do back then. Now, the policy comes up. This guy here had never failed a test. I keep on producing, doing what I do. And nobody can point a finger at me.

People point fingers at me because of (the test). But nobody, not the union, not MLB, nobody ever came to me and told me, "You tested positive for this." Everybody used to go to GNC and buy supplements. And I guarantee you, most of the guys who tested positive, it was for that.

(The U.S. government had seized the samples and records of 104 players from baseball’s drug-testing companies in 2004 as part of the BALCO investigation into Barry Bonds and others. The New York Times reported that Ortiz was on the list.

The late Michael Weiner, then the general counsel for the players’ union, could not confirm to Ortiz that he had tested positive because of the court order, acknowledging only that he was on the list. Ortiz at the time said he had been "careless" in taking supplements, but denied buying or using steroids.)

MORE ON A-ROD

It’s different from some of the guys who were buying steroids and they proved they were buying steroids. My case basically was like your case. You go to a Starbucks and buy a cup of coffee just like all your friends who work with you every day, right? That’s exactly the same thing we did here.

We are athletes. We work every day. We try to get better. Some of us have made the mistakes of, yes, going and buying steroids. But a lot of us, we haven’t made that mistake. And the reality is, 10 years later, here I am, still producing, doing my thing, getting drug-tested 10-12 times a year and never failing a test. Why should I feel guilty about that?

Q: I know the testing isn’t perfect, but you’re right, you’ve never tested positive. Do you sometimes feel like you can’t win?

A: Well, that’s something I can’t control. What I can control is what I do on the field. But if we look at the whole picture, the drug testing how it was back then and how it has been through the years . . . back then, they didn’t even know what you tested positive for.

I don’t even know how (anyone) was allowed to go into federal court and then next thing you know, you look like a cheater. I was asking questions: "What did I test positive for?" Nobody can come to me and tell me that I tested positive for steroids. Nobody on this planet can come and say, "David Ortiz, yes, you tested positive for steroids."

If I ever get to be blocked from the Hall of Fame because of that — if I ever get to the situation where I can get there — I will consider that just an excuse.

Q: Why don’t you consider yourself a Hall of Famer? You’ve done a lot of big things in your career.

A: Because I’m not done yet (laughing). And even if you’re on the ballot and you’re not in it, I don’t think you should consider yourself at that level. That’s the highest level you can ever get to once you are done with your career.

It takes some time, it takes a lot of pride and a lot of great things to get there. I watch my compadre Pedro (Martinez), how he handled the business. And I learned from him. But there is a way to go, still. We’ll see how it goes.

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