The Dirt

I was ready to shoot somebody, man. Literally. I was sleeping at my house in the Dominican this winter when I heard a banging on my front door at 7:30 in the morning. Now, I got security. My kids and family are sleeping in the house. I wasn’t expecting anyone. Who in the hell is banging on my door? I come down the stairs yelling like, “Who the f*** is there?”

I look on the security camera by the door and it’s two American guys holding briefcases. I could tell by the way they looked what was in the briefcases. Pee cups and big needles.

MLB sent them down on a little vacation to my island. What a job.

So I open the door.

“Sorry for the interruption, but we need to take some samples.”

I’m looking at these guys like, “7:30 in the morning? Really, bro?”

So the guys come in with their equipment and start taking my blood in the kitchen. My kids are so used to this by now that they’re laughing and taking pictures. This is nothing new. The one guy is sticking me with the needle while the other one is shooting the shit with me, telling me he’s from Colorado.

“Warm down here!” he says.

“I didn’t know you guys were coming,” I say. “You gotta be more careful. This is the Dominican, bro.”

“We’re just doing our job,” he says.

“Let me tell you something,” I say. “The only thing you’re going to find in my blood is rice and beans.”

In some people’s minds, I will always be considered a cheater. And that’s bullshit. Mark my words: Nobody in MLB history has been tested for PEDs more than me. You know how many times I’ve been tested since 2004? More than 80. They say these tests are random. If it’s really random, I should start playing the damn lottery. Some people still think the testing is a joke. It’s no joke. Ten times a season these guys come into the clubhouse or my home with their briefcases. I have never failed a single one of those tests and I never will.

But that doesn’t matter to some people. Some people still look at me like I’m a cheater because my name was on a list of players who got flagged for PEDs in 2003. Let me tell you something about that test. Most guys were taking over-the-counter supplements then. Most guys are still taking over-the-counter supplements. If it’s legal, ballplayers take it. Why? Because if you make it to the World Series, you play 180 games. Really think about that for a second. 180 games. Your kids could be sick, your wife could be yelling at you, your dad could be dying — nobody cares. Nobody cares if you have a bone bruise in your wrist or if you have a pulled groin. You’re an entertainer. The people want to see you hit a 95-mile-an-hour fastball over a damn 37-foot wall.

Most MLB players take a dozen pills a day just to get them through the season — multivitamins, creatine, amino acids, nitric oxide, all kinds of stuff. Whatever you tell them is legal, they’ll take it.

But back in the early 2000s, you’d go into GNC and the guy working there would say, “Hey, take this stuff. It’s great. It builds muscle, helps with soreness, burns fat, whatever.”

Okay, sure, I’ll take that. I’m buying an over-the-f***ing-counter supplement in the United States of America. I’m buying this stuff in line next to doctors and lawyers. Now all of a sudden MLB comes out and says there’s some ingredient in GNC pills that have a form of steroid in them. I don’t know anything about it.

If you think I’m full of it, go to your kitchen cabinet right now and read the back of a supplement bottle and honestly tell me you know what all of that stuff is. I’m not driving across the border to Mexico buying some shady pills from a drug dealer. I’m in a strip mall across from the Dunkin’ Donuts, bro.

In 2003, MLB wanted to measure what players were taking and figure out some kind of standard. We all got tested and MLB sealed the results. The next year, they said, “Okay, you can’t take any pills with this, this and this,” — all kinds of stuff that was previously in supplements that anybody could buy. They used our tests to figure out what should be considered a performance-enhancer. Okay. Fine. Great. Clean it up. I love it. Shit, if you catch someone taking PEDs now that we all know the rules and have been educated about what’s in these supplements, forget 25, 50 games. Suspend them for an entire year. I don’t care, because I’m not doing it.

The next couple seasons, I start noticing things changing. Guys are a lot more conscious about what they’re putting in their body. But I’m getting tested 10 times a season and I’m still in the gym benching 400 pounds. I’m out there in 2006 hitting 54 home runs. Nobody wants to talk about that though. They’re on me for my flair now. “Papi, how come you walk around the bases so slow when you hit a home run? How come you flip your bat like that? Don’t you think that’s disrespectful to celebrate?”

Yeah, I’m gonna have fun. It’s who I am. I just hit a baseball 500 damn feet. I grew up in the gutter and now I’m out here in front of the world living my dream and you all want me to feel sad? I can’t do it. I’m here to bring joy to this game.

People ask me all the time how I turned into such a monster in my early 30s. “How are you doing this? You must be cheating.” You know how? Physically, I was always a bull. But I learned to play the game with my head and my heart and my balls. I got smarter. I got mentally tougher. I used to have a trick every time we went into Yankee Stadium, especially in the playoffs. I’d walk out to the on-deck circle and look into the crowd and pick out the craziest guys there. I’d find the ones that were screaming all kinds of stuff at me, and I’d look them right in the eyes. It was like a game — see who blinks first. Then I’d turn to my dugout and say, “Hey, watch this. I’m gonna hit this one to the choo-choo train.”

One night I hit a home run and when I was rounding third base I found these two guys in the stands who had been screaming at me. And they were literally fighting. The one guy was yelling, “Why the f*** did you piss him off, man?”

I became a great hitter because of my mental preparation. This is a thinking man’s game. You can be the strongest dude alive and you’re not going to be able to hit a sinker with 40,000 people screaming at you. That’s what really makes me mad when I think about the way I will be remembered. They’re only going to remember my power. They’re not going to remember the hours and hours and hours of work in the film room. They’re not going to remember the BP. They’re not going to remember me for my intelligence. Despite all I’ve done in this game, I’m just the big DH from the Dominican. They turn you into a character, man.

You think I’m joking?

In 2013, I came off the DL and started hot. My first 20 games I was hitting like .400. And the reporter with the red jheri curl from The Boston Globe comes into the locker room says, “You’re from the Dominican. You’re older. You fit the profile of a steroid user. Don’t you think you’re a prime suspect?”

He’s saying this with a straight face. I had taken like 70 at-bats. Anybody can get hot and hit .400 with 70 at-bats. I was stunned. I’m like, I’m Dominican? I fit the profile? Are you kidding me?

I wanted to kill this guy. But you can’t react. That’s what they want. They want you to get angry so they can bury you. So I just smiled at him and asked for his address.

“Why do you want my address?” he said.

“Because I just got tested two days ago.” I said. “I’ll mail you the f****ing results.”

This is a reporter from my own city coming to my locker and telling me I’m too good, that I must be on some shit. I’m sitting there thinking, Man, I get tested 10 times a year and I’ve helped win this town two World Series titles in 2004 and 2007 and this guy who has never played a game of professional baseball in his life is telling me I’m a suspect.

My test was clean just like the other 8 or 9 tests that season. My batting average settled down to .300, because of course it did. I hit like 30 home runs and we won the World Series. Was that acceptable for the reporter? Were my numbers too high for a player from the Dominican? Should I have taken another blood test before popping the damn champagne?

He never apologized.

I get asked all the time: “Do you think you’ll be inducted into the Hall of Fame? Do you think it’s fair for you to be included after your name was on that list in 2003?”

Let me tell you about fair. I grew up in a neighborhood where there was a shooting every day. Every single day. I didn’t know if I was going to step outside to go play at the park with a f***ing tape ball and a stick and get shot. I saw people get killed right in front of me. There was a fight in my house pretty much every other day. It was normal. I grew up in a house that didn’t have the luxury of proper nutrition or vitamins. A protein shake? Are you kidding me? The only protein I knew about until I was 16 was frijoles negros. Black beans.

These reporters always want to talk about fair. The world ain’t fair.

I’ll never forget coming into the clubhouse before a day game against Oakland in 2009 when a reporter came up to me and said, “Hey, you know your name is about to be on a list of steroid users on ESPN?”

I literally said, “Ha!” and walked away. God’s honest truth: I thought he was messing with me.

About 30 minutes later, I’m getting dressed when I see my face pop up on the TV. I see “Failed Test. 2003.” No one had ever told me I’d failed any test. Now six years later some documents get leaked and they’re saying I’m dirty. I called my agent and asked what was going on. He didn’t have any answers for me. I called the MLB Players’ Association and they didn’t have any answers for me. To this day, nobody has any answers for me. Nobody can tell me what I supposedly tested positive for. They say they legally can’t, because the tests were never supposed to be public.

Let me tell you something. Say whatever you want about me — love me, hate me. But I’m no bullshitter. I never knowingly took any steroids. If I tested positive for anything, it was for something in pills I bought at the damn mall. If you think that ruins everything I have done in this game, there is nothing I can say to convince you different.

After I saw my face on ESPN, I felt a lot of darkness. I felt a lot of anger. I knew what was coming. But I went out there that day and when I stepped up to the plate, I just thought, Papi, look at where you are. Look at where you came from. Nobody’s shooting at you. Nobody’s trying to kill you. They pay you to play a kid’s game.

When I’m at the plate, I really feel like I’m in heaven.

I hit the game-winning home run into the bleachers at Fenway that day. That was it, man. That was my closure.

When I got to the clubhouse, it was crazy. Reporters were everywhere. Nobody asked about the homer. Nobody asked how many times I’ve been tested since 2003. Since that day, I have been asked the same question a million times: Do you think you deserve to be in the Hall of Fame?

Hell yes I deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. I’ve won three World Series since MLB introduced comprehensive drug testing. I’ve performed year after year after year. But if a bunch of writers who have never swung a bat want to tell me it’s all for nothing, OK. Why do they write my legacy?

Let me tell you what I really care about. When we played in Texas a few days later after the news came out, people were screaming, “Cheater, cheater, cheater!” It was really vicious.

My family was sitting right there in the stands. After the game, my son came up to me in the hotel with tears in his eyes and he says, “Dad, why are they calling you a cheater? Are you a cheater?”

As a father, that’s a moment you’re never prepared for. I looked at him in the eye and said, “No, I’m not a cheater.”

In 75 years, when I’m dead and gone, I won’t care if I’m in the Hall of Fame. I won’t care if a bunch of baseball writers know the truth about who I am in my soul and what I have done in this game. I care that my children know the truth.