David Oritz has been called a lot of things in his baseball career by his critics. Cheater, selfish, arrogant, come quickly to mind. Dumb or stupid do not.

He knew exactly what he was doing Monday when he went off on a profane rant into the recorder of WEEI’s Rob Bradford. Big Papi is the Babe Ruth of our times but his legacy is attacked constantly. He allegedly tested positive to a performance-enhancing drug 11 years ago and no one is forgetting.

This weekend, a commentator said Ortiz had gotten a free pass and the Red Sox designated hitter lost his temper. No, he hasn’t gotten a free pass. Not in Boston and not anywhere else. He is smeared with the same brush that paints Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and others as being unworthy of baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown because they all cheated by taking steroids, human growth hormone or PEDs.

Unlike the others, Ortiz takes his verbal fight to the streets. He says he may have taken a PED in his youth by mistake, before testing was instituted. Baseball fans say a guilty man protests his innocence or ignorance too much.

Silence can condemn. Ortiz won’t be silent and I’ll give him that.

These are our times. Baltimore Orioles outfielder Nelson Cruz, suspended for 50 games for PED use last season, has a perfect day against the Red Sox and starting pitcher John Lackey is asked about it after Sunday’s game. He won’t comment other than to say, in part: “You guys forget pretty conveniently about stuff.”

Lackey was referring to the suspension.

Orioles Manager Buck Showalter shot back with: “We need to all be sure we check our own backyard before we start looking at someone else’s.”

Showalter didn’t use Ortiz’s name. He didn’t have to. And here we go again.

Yes, PED fatigue set in a long time ago. It’s not unlike political gridlock in Washington. You see no end to it. Except baseball is a game and you don’t want to worry about who’s cheating and who’s not.

You say you have circumstantial evidence that Ortiz was a user, is a continued user.

When he was in the Seattle and Minnesota organizations he couldn’t hit and suddenly, with the Red Sox, he could. When Roger Maris played outfield for Kansas City he couldn’t hit 20 home runs. Finally, in 1961 he hit 61 for the Yankees. He never hit that many again, but he remained a power hitter.

Jose Bautista can’t hit with the Orioles, Tampa Bay, Kansas City or Pittsburgh. He arrives in Toronto and hits over 50. Everyone is wise to PEDs and testing and Bautista is stained by the innuendos. He’s either working with the best chemist or he’s clean. He’s been hurt for the past three seasons but I believe he’s clean.

Athletes develop differently even if the career path is similar. Prime time isn’t an absolute.

You say no one can hit with Big Papi’s power late into his 30s without the help of PEDs. Hank Aaron hit 40 in 1973. He was 39. I may be naive, but I don’t believe Aaron used. Yes, he was the exception and that’s the point.

No one who used PEDs deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. If it’s hit or miss between known and unknown cheaters so be it. On judgment day, Ortiz can present a different dilemma. He is larger than life. Everything he does or says has more clout, from his home runs in the playoffs to becoming one of the major faces of Boston Strong after the marathon bombings.

He fights to balance the ledger against the perception he has been a continued PED user and may yet succeed. No player has walked onto baseball’s biggest stages with more swagger and authority over the past 10 years. Not his former sidekick, the disgraced Manny Ramirez. Not Miguel Cabrera.

He is Big Papi. He spoke for Boston last spring. It should be no surprise he’ll speak for himself.

Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at [email protected]

Twitter: SteveSolloway

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