PR in Sports

Looking at the World of Sports from a PR Perspecitve

Can Big Papi Save Baseball?

with 8 comments

In 1998 Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa virtually saved the game of baseball with their incredible homerun race. We found out later they might have also killed the game by bringing on the steroid era. Is it time now for another home run slugger to save the game?

Major League Baseball, the Players Association and the media have been fighting a public relations battle over performance enhancing drugs for nearly a decade, even causing the federal government to get involved. But, things got a little more interesting on Monday when Boston Red Sox slugger David “Big Papi” Ortiz entered the fray.

Ortiz, in his first meeting with the media since arriving at Spring Training, became arguably the highest profile player to call for stricter testing for PED’s. Ortiz not only called for testing more often, but called for every player to be tested multiple times during the season. He even went as far as recommending blood tests and a full season suspension for a failed test. Currently a player gets a 50-game suspension for a first time fail.

In the eyes of the fans he’ll been seen as one of the few star players that is finally putting the good of the game ahead of big numbers, ego and most importantly money. The public and the media will eat this up, but they’ve been on this side of the fence for a while, without much result. The missing link to this point has been the players.

The Players Association, one of the strongest, if not the strongest, union in sports has been doing its job, right or wrong, protecting the rights of their players. To the chagrin of the fans and even some media, they’ve been against any and all testing, at times making it difficult for Bud Selig, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, to even discuss changes to the CBA.

So now the question is, can Ortiz and other players use this moment to bring about real changes in baseball’s testing policy and penalties? Can Ortiz be the galvanizing force that helps put an end to the steroid era in baseball?

A few players have spoken out in the past, but for the most part, players have been reluctant to call out their peers, or go against the union that fights so hard for them. High profile players rarely like to ruffle feathers and go against the union, and fringe players fear losing their jobs.

But, maybe a player the stature of Ortiz is all that was needed? Maybe his words will be the first domino to fall, and he can be the guy that makes it ok for other players to step up publicly and demand more testing and harsher penalties. The only way the union will come to the negotiation table and seriously discuss a real testing policy is if the players they’re charged with protecting force them too.

We may see the effects of Big Papi’s comments as soon as Tuesday when Alex Rodriguez is set to hold his first press conference since his admission on ESPN last week that he used performance enhancing drugs from 2001-2003. You can guarantee players around the league will be fielding questions for days about A-Rod and Ortiz’s comments. Will they play it PC and listen to their agents, PR reps and the union, or will enough fed-up players side with Ortiz and begin putting some pressure on their own union?

It seems with fans and media ready for resolution, and the other shoe dropping with the A-Rod news, the time is ripe for the “clean” players to draw a line in the sand. Is Big Papi the guy to do that, or are we saddled with another decade-plus of wondering who is and who isn’t using?

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Written by Brian Gleason

February 17, 2009 at 4:07 am

8 Responses

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  1. Nice article. This is a great first step from Big Papi. However, it’s now to the point where actions will truly speak louder than words. Will other players actually step up to support this? Will the Union try to put a muzzle on Papi? Will MLB be able to overcome such a gaping PR black hole? I personally don’t think MLB will lose fans over this. People want to go to the park, have a few beers and see baseball. For this, the economy is still a much bigger threat to fans in the seats. But long-term credibility is at the heart of this matter. As far as I’m concerned, and I’m sure I mirror the thoughts of millions others, home run stats don’t mean a thing right now. And any meaningful stat won’t be meaningful until all this is cleaned up. It’s just entertainment.

    John Sternal

    February 17, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    • John,

      Thanks for checking out the blog. I agree that MLB has a huge PR issue with all of this, and it’s more about credibility than tickets. You’re right, fans are still coming to the ballparks.

      I look at this issue as having three groups. You have the fans & media, MLB and the union. I think MLB needs to craft a PR campaign that brings the players to their side. A campaign that forces the players to realize that tougher testing and penalties are the only thing that will end this. Do I really think Ortiz is going to become a crusader and get this done, probably not, but some player is going to have too.

      Brian Gleason

      February 18, 2009 at 2:28 am

  2. Let me guesss, you are a red sox fan? This is just another transparent attempt to promote the Red Sox as the saviors of the game of baseball. Big Papi should count his blessings that they don’t test for chesseburgers. If Big Papi is such an idol, where was he during the congressional hearings or the prior years? Instead, he chooses to speak his mind when it is safe and a player has admitted his use and a suspension would materially benefit his team. Not much courage in that.

    Poppa Burgundy

    February 17, 2009 at 4:13 pm

  3. by you, I was referring to the author.

    Poppa Burgundy

    February 17, 2009 at 4:14 pm

  4. Why would the players want to come clean about steroids? As long as record numbers are being put out there, record contracts will be signed. This only benefits the middle tiered players who get ridiculous contracts as mediocre talent. I also find it hard to believe that a fair Mitchell report was filed seeing that Mitchell was conveniently on the Red Sox board of directors at the time. Tell me who was on the 2004 Sox before we start killing anymore players. Until then, I say, continue taking whatever you want…it’s just entertainment

    Boston Yankees

    February 17, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    • Boston Yankees,
      You have a point about the record numbers and money the players are making, but players are also beginning to really take a PR hit, especially with the Clemens and Bonds fiasco’s. At some point the “clean” players have to get fed up and take a stand, and with the testing currently in place there will be more and more “clean” players that are being labeled cheaters.

      Brian Gleason

      February 18, 2009 at 2:32 am

    • Good to see a telnat at work. I can’t match that.


      May 4, 2011 at 7:58 pm

  5. I think that these guys egos don’t care about how the public feels about them. Also, we always here about how the fans are going to go away after every controversy….the strike, steroids, etc…but they always come back and will always pay big money to see these guys. The real answer is a salary cap…however, I see that facist and I’m against it.

    Good day to you sir.

    Boston Yankees

    February 18, 2009 at 1:55 pm

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