VIERA, Fla. (AP) — Even after a decade in the majors, Ryan Zimmerman knows that one report saying he took performance-enhancing drugs could tarnish his reputation.
So he's fighting to clear his name after Al-Jazeera America aired a documentary in late December that implicated the Washington Nationals' starting first baseman.
In January, he and Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard filed defamation suits against the network, and on Tuesday Zimmerman vigorously defended himself against the claims made in "The Dark Side: Secrets of Sports Doping."
Zimmerman — who said his emotions have ranged from shock, anger and frustration — believes trainer Jason Riley is how his name got linked to pharmacist Charles Sly, who was featured in the documentary. Sly recanted his statements about Zimmerman, Howard and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning taking human growth hormone before the documentary aired.
"I've never met that guy, I've never heard of that guy," Zimmerman said of Sly. "None of that stuff is true. I've never done any of that. I've never even thought about doing any of that."
The organization's longest tenured player said he was willing to open up his entire life, including phone and email records, to discovery as part of the defamation suit. Even though Zimmerman acknowledged it's difficult for public figures to successfully sue for defamation, he felt it was his responsibility to go through the process.
"Maybe if this stops this from happening to just one person after me, then it's worth it," Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman and Howard filed suits in U.S. District Court in Washington Jan. 5 against Al-Jazeera America. The 31-year-old said his ability to afford to file for defamation and the statement it made about his life and career made doing so an easy decision.
"Opening myself up to everything that filing a suit opens you up to, I don't really think there's much of a stronger I guess action for me to take than saying: 'Here you go. Come look at me legally,'" Zimmerman said. "A lot of people have said certain things when they're accused of these but have never taken these actions, so by taking these actions I'm basically letting them into all aspects of my life. ... I'm willing to take to show people that I have nothing to hide."
Zimmerman is going into his 11th full major league season. He's a .283 career hitter with 200 home runs and 783 runs batted in.
The documentary added Zimmerman and Howard to the long list of baseball players who allegedly have taken performance-enhancing drugs. Across the state in Clearwater, Howard said the documentary came as a surprise and denied the statements made in it.
Zimmerman said he's in favor of continued investigations as long as they're not reckless.
"We need investigations because I'm one of the biggest advocates for getting things out of sports," Zimmerman said. "I think people need to be a little bit careful before they just start throwing peoples' names out there."
Zimmerman wanted so badly to talk to Dusty Baker about the situation that he followed his new manager into his office from the parking lot Tuesday morning. Baker could hear the "hurt" in Zimmerman's voice about the allegations.
"He explained it to me, which he didn't really have to," Baker said. "But he wanted me to know what was going on and how sad and kind of angry but embarrassed (he was) about the whole situation because he's a guy that really cares about kids and about other people and how they think of him and the influences that he may have on young people. He'll be exonerated."
Zimmerman, whose goal for 2016 is to stay healthy after injuries limited him to just 156 games combined over the past two seasons, understands that filing for defamation could make the road to exoneration a long one. It's his hope that surrendering his privacy for the suit sends a statement about his innocence.
"I don't really know a stronger way to express myself," Zimmerman said. "I don't think there is a stronger way to express myself in this country than that."