“Ten years ago, no self-respecting journalist,” Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal solemnly intones,  “would have speculated that a player was using performance-enhancing drugs without some form of proof.”  Nowadays, however, it’s a 24-7 cycle of yack radio howlers, blog haters and (ahem) journalists without a smidgeon of Ken’s self-respect.  Especially regarding the topic of the fast fading Big Papi.

For all I know, Dvid Ortiz might have been a user; the Steroid Era, sadly, has taught us to view all players skeptically. But there is a significant difference between holding such a view privately and accusing a player publicly without any factual basis for such an opinion.

Ten years ago, no reporter would have dared make such a leap, fearing, at minimum, a stern rebuke from an editor and, at worst, a lawsuit. In fact, the difficulty in “naming names” was one problem in reporting on steroids in baseball.

If I had shown the foresight to tackle the subject ” and I didn’t ” an editor might have asked me for names. But for a time, no reporter could properly satisfy such a request without an outright admission by a player, the kind that Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci elicited from Ken Caminiti. Federal investigations of distribution rings ” the source of much of what we know today ” came later.

Several times in recent weeks, radio talk-show hosts have asked me what I thought of the possibility that Ortiz was using PEDS.

The rationale for such questions?

The talk is “out there.”

Well, I have no idea if David Ortiz used PEDs; probably no journalist does. I could not even make an educated guess, and it would be unprofessional of me to do so.

Here’s one thing I do know: Before steroids, players actually declined as they got older. Ortiz is 33. Maybe he is losing his skills. Maybe he just stinks.

But who wants to talk about that?

A fair enough point — indeed, once upon a time it wouldn’t necessarily have been a red flag for a player’s skills to noticeably decline at age 33.  But Ortiz’ decline has been especially dramatic, much as his ascent after arriving in Boston from Minnesota was nothing short of meteoric.  That the former’s occurrence coincides with increased scrutiny doesn’t  necessarily mean Ortiz is a cheat.  But he wouldn’t be the first player whose numbers fell off the charts after a spectacular, ‘roid-assisted run.