Great years mean scrutiny for Davis, Bautista
Late bloomers discuss being under constant microscope from fans, media
The Chris Davis story ought to be enjoyable.
A kid comes along in Longview, Texas, weighing nine pounds and measuring 22 inches in length at birth. He spends his childhood downtime squeezing a tennis ball to build forearm strength. He's taken in the fifth round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft by the Rangers and is given multiple Major League opportunities, none of which pan out.
He is shipped as a mere accessory in a Trade Deadline deal with the Orioles. But in his sixth season, the lightbulb clicks, and he has 33 homers and 85 RBIs before the All-Star break.
The Jose Bautista story ought to have been enjoyable.
A boy grows up in the Dominican Republic, routinely the smallest kid on his baseball teams. He begins to blossom physically and shows enough potential in junior college that the Pittsburgh Pirates take him in the 20th round of the 2000 First-Year Player Draft. He becomes a Rule 5 Draft pick and plays for four teams in his first season in the big leagues. It is not until his sixth season, after the Blue Jays pick him up off the scrap heap, that he makes the mental and mechanical tweaks that put him in a better position to be successful. And in his seventh season, he hits 54 home runs to become baseball's most potent power hitter.
These are great baseball stories that, in another era, would have been used to teach us about perseverance and belief in your abilities.
But we don't live in that era. We live in the performance-enhancing drug era, where these great stories open their subjects up to undue scrutiny, supposition and speculation.
Bautista hasn't paid any attention to the recent coverage of Davis' remarkable first half, but he doesn't really need to.
He's lived it, after all.
When Bautista blossomed unexpectedly as a 29-year-old, he was hounded by questions, from fans and media alike, about whether his achievements were legitimate. Those questions persisted for at least another year, before people began to embrace the idea of Bautista as an elite hitter and left him alone.
These days, it's Davis who is under the microscope. Davis has heard the speculation coming from all corners, and he will undoubtedly hear such queries again when the All-Stars convene in New York City.
"I understand what he's going through," Bautista said Tuesday, "and I understand why people ask him the questions. But I also think it's very unfair and very unwarranted. Until somebody brings forward some sort of evidence or he tests positive or something, I don't think it's fair of anybody to ask him those questions."
Bautista heard the questions throughout 2010 and much of '11. He says he doesn't hear them anymore, many drug tests and many home runs later.
"To be honest, I expected it to die at some point, because I know what I'm doing and how I accomplished it," Bautista said. "But even right now, talking to you, I feel I have to find some way to defend myself. How else would I approach the subject?"
Baseless speculation on the subject has, unfortunately, become an immovable object in the baseball landscape.
"I have to take the heat for other people's mistakes," Davis told ESPN.com columnist Rick Reilly, in a piece Reilly drenched with dubiousness. "I guess it's kind of a backhanded compliment. If people accuse me of steroids, I must be doing something right."
Rather than give Davis -- or Bautista, for that matter -- his due benefit of the doubt for having never been disciplined for performance-enhancing drug use in a league with some of the most stringent policies in all of sport or accept that baseball -- and sporting -- history is loaded with late bloomers or out-of-nowhere achievements, some journalists and fans would rather be dubious than duped.
"I've never seen that type of coverage on any other major sport in North America," said Bautista, "where somebody scores more touchdowns or hits more three-pointers or scores more goals or wins more matches than another, and then the media answers to why [they were able to be successful] is PEDs. Other than in baseball, I've never seen it. For more than 10 years, our policy has been the strictest one out of all the major sports for PEDs. And 10 years later, we're still answering the same questions."
Davis directly answered the question from a high school kid who asked him on Twitter, "Are you on steroids?" He didn't need 140 characters to respond, just two: "No," he wrote.
Naturally, for some, that's not enough, because we've seen too many athletes backtrack and betray, and it doesn't even matter that none of those athletes were Davis.
"How would this kid ever get that idea or have enough courage to ask a Major League player that question," Bautista said, "if it wasn't for the perception of the public and the media coverage on the whole thing?"
The public perception is unfair but unrelenting, and that's why baseball vigilantly fights its unending battle against science and swindlers -- witness the Biogenesis proceedings, which are expected to lead to a slew of suspensions.
Look, nobody can tell you every player on a Major League field is clean. As long as there is money and pride on the line, some percentage of the people involved will compromise their integrity in order to gain an edge. That's life.
But baseball -- moreso, I'd argue, than any other major American sport -- has done all it can do to ensure the game you're watching is on the up and up. Short of that, I don't know what more can be asked.
If Chris Davis or Jose Bautista one day get implicated in PEDs, well, we'll deal with that ugliness then. But they simply haven't been. And just as Bautista deserved better in 2010, so, too, does Davis now.
Sometimes a good story really is a good story.